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Rice faces federal charges

June 07, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Federal agents arrested Martinsburg businessman Thomas D. Rice at his home Monday morning on a federal criminal charge stemming from a February Internet sex sting in Virginia.

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A federal grand jury in Roanoke, Va., indicted Rice on a charge of traveling in interstate commerce with the intent to engage in sexual relations with an individual under the age of 18, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tony Giorno said.

"We believe he drove from West Virginia to Virginia for the purpose of having sex with a minor," said Giorno, a member of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Roanoke.

Rice, who was an aide to former West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton, declined comment on the federal charge Monday afternoon and referred all questions to his attorney, Harry Garrett of Bedford, Va.

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Garrett, who did not return calls for comment Monday, has called the allegations "mere fiction."

Rice, 58, was arrested on Feb. 20 in Bedford County, Va., where police said he had driven from his Martinsburg home about 190 miles away to have sex with a 13-year-old boy.

The "boy" was an undercover Bedford County sheriff's deputy who was pretending to be a boy for the purposes of an Internet sex sting operation.

The Bedford County Commonwealth Attorney's office charged Rice with two felony counts of attempted indecent liberties with a child under the age of 14 and one felony count of attempted crimes against nature with a child under the age of 14.

The state charges will be dismissed in light of federal prosecution, which could mean stiffer penalties for Rice if he is convicted, Giorno said.

While conviction on each of the three state charges carries a maximum five-year prison term and a $2,500 fine, Giorno said conviction on the federal charge could result in 10 years in a federal penitentiary and a $250,000 fine.

The U.S. Attorney's Office is seeking forfeiture of Rice's home in Martinsburg, his car and his computer, Giorno said.

"The philosophy with the forfeiture law is that, in addition to punishment, we can take away the instruments used in a crime," Giorno said.

FBI agents arrested Rice "without incident" at his East Addition Street home in Martinsburg at 7:45 a.m. Monday and took him to the U.S. District Court building in Martinsburg, FBI Special Agent Jeff Killeen said.

Rice was arraigned by federal Magistrate David L. Core and released on a $10,000 unsecured bond, said Fawn Thomas, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Wheeling, W.Va.

The unsecured bond means Rice did not have to post any money, but he would have to pay $10,000 if he failed to appear in federal court in Roanoke.

No court date has been set in the case.

Giorno said investigators were still reviewing the computer and diskettes that police seized from Rice's home after his arrest.

West Virginia State Police searched Rice's home the day after his initial arrest and turned a computer and files over to the federally funded Internet task force based in Bedford County, giving the U.S. Attorney's Office access to the evidence.

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