Ex-Washington state newspaper editor pleads not guilty to paying girls for sexually explicit images

Aug 1, 2023, 4:31 PM

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — A former Spokesman-Review newspaper editor arrested and accused of paying girls for sexually explicit images pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to nearly a dozen charges.

Steven Smith, 73, pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of possession of depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct, KHQ-TV reported. He has remained in Spokane County Jail on a $25,000 bail since his arrest on July 20.

Smith was executive editor of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, from 2002 to 2008.

An account in Smith’s name for a mobile cash payment service was linked to an investigation into children using social media to send sexually explicit photos of themselves in exchange for money sent to them via the app, according to court documents.

The victims, 10-to-14-year-old girls, sent images to an Instagram account and received money through a cash app account. Internet activity of those accounts was traced to Smith’s Spokane home, the documents said.

Chat conversations showed Smith was aware of the victims’ ages, the documents said.

Smith was downloading more of the images when investigators searched his home in July, the documents said. When a detective asked if he knew why they were there he replied, “yes, it’s probably from what I have been downloading,” according to documents.

Smith taught journalism ethics at the University of Idaho after leaving the Spokesman-Review. He retired in 2020.

The nonprofit news organization FāVS News, which has employed Smith as a columnist since 2020 and recently named him managing editor, said after his arrest that he had been suspended indefinitely. That message remained at the top of the new organization’s website on Tuesday.

Authorities found dozens of videos showing child pornography were sent to the account between April of 2022 and January of 2023. At the time the videos were sent, the victims were between 10 and 14 years old.

Robert Hammer, a spokesperson for HSI, said these types of sextortion cases emphasize the importance of parents keeping their children informed about the dangers that lurk on social media.

“We as a society, we as law enforcement are taking steps, but we need parents as well to take an active role in having tough conversations with their parents on the dangers that exist out there,” Hammer said.

Hammer said these cases have risen in recent years, and they’re contributing to a rise in mental health issues and suicide among children.

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Ex-Washington state newspaper editor pleads not guilty to paying girls for sexually explicit images