Former Fugitive to Serve 16 Years for Child Porn

Photo by Robert A. DeFrank Wesley Alan Burdge is sentenced Monday to 16 years in prison for pandering sexually oriented matter involving a minor. He appeared before Belmont County Common Pleas Judge Frank Fregiato with his attorney, Brent Clyburn.

Wesley Alan Burdge will spend the next 16 years behind bars after he pleaded guilty earlier this month to two counts of pandering sexually oriented matter involving a minor.

Meanwhile, his girlfriend, Tabitha Gallagher, pleaded guilty Monday to attempted obstruction of justice, a felony of the fourth degree, and will be sentenced June 3. Both were fugitives at the end of 2018 when law enforcement investigated a roommate on suspicion of charges related to child pornography.

Burdge, 44, and Gallagher, 38, former residents of Markatan Street, Flushing, were arrested in November in Washington, Pennsylvania, after a manhunt that lasted about one month.

Fregiato said he had reviewed the files related to the case.

“I think it’s necessary for the court to review some, and I repeat only some, of the facts in this case to make certain that the public understands the harshness of the sentencing,” Fregiato said.

He described the nature of some of the material found: “Shared child pornography online. Large amount of child pornography on the laptop.”

In addition, Fregiato said Burdge had a prior conviction for unlawful sexual conduct with a minor in 2002.

“This court is absolutely sickened by the facts in the case. This defendant shall not prey upon any more Belmont County children, or any children, wherever they reside. Sex slavery is over for this defendant,” Fregiato said.

He imposed an eight-year sentence for each count, to be served consecutively for the maximum of 16 years. Burdge also was designated a Tier 2 child victim sex offender.

“This court finds that consecutive sentence is necessary to protect the public, and our youth, from future crime and to punish the offender,” Fregiato said. “The defendant’s history of criminal conduct, the facts of this case and his prior conviction clearly demonstrate that consecutive sentences are necessary to protect the public from future crime by this offender.”

Gallagher then appeared before Fregiato and pleaded guilty to attempted obstruction of justice. A pre-sentence investigation and victim impact statement were ordered.

The charges against them stem from an incident Oct. 11, when detectives served a search warrant at their residence in the course of investigating the couple’s roommate, John Null Garwon III. The Internet Crimes Against Children Division of the Belmont County Major Crimes Unit had received evidence from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children indicating Garwon had been sharing child pornography on the internet.

Garwon was arrested, but Burdge and Gallagher reportedly fled with their children, ages 1 and 5. The children were subsequently found with the couple and placed in foster care.

Detective Doug Cruse with the Belmont County Sheriff’s Department said deputies worked well with the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force based out of Cuyahoga County, as well as an FBI task force stationed in Columbus, along with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification, which provided technical assistance. He also commented on the conclusion of the case.

“I want to commend Judge Fregiato for giving the maximum sentence. I think it’s well-deserved. I think there’s a lot of misconception out there when people hear the word child pornography. Essentially what that is is child rape. That’s children being raped on video and pictures. … Hopefully this sends a message to people out there who think they can get away with sharing that stuff online. If you do that in Belmont County, we’re going to find you, we’re going to prosecute you and the judges are taking this extremely serious,” Cruse said.

Belmont County Prosecutor Dan Fry commended Cruse’s work. He added that the sentence was appropriate.

“This individual was a possessor and peddler of child porn. What people have to realize is that these are more than mere pictures. These are innocent children that are being used in a disgustingly vulgar manner,” Fry said. “As it turns out, Mr. Burdge will have close to two decades in prison to pay for his crimes.”

Fry added that none of the child pornography involved in cases that his office has handled has originated in Belmont County.

“Mere possession or sharing of child porn is a felony and often times can lead to other crimes,” Fry said. “That is why my office will always take the hard-line stance that we do.”

Meanwhile, Garwon, 43, faces charges of pandering sexually oriented matter involving a minor and rape. His trial is set for Aug. 13 before Belmont County Common Pleas Judge John Vavra. He is incarcerated in lieu of $250,000 bond.

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