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Feds charge Duggar with receiving and possessing material depicting sexual abuse of children

by Ron Wood | May 1, 2021 at 7:01 a.m.
Joshua Duggar

FAYETTEVILLE -- Joshua James Duggar of Springdale pleaded not guilty Friday to federal child pornography charges.

Duggar, 33, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Erin Wiedemann and pleaded not guilty to one charge of receipt of child pornography and one charge of possession of child pornography.

Duggar, best known for being a part of his family's cable television reality show, is accused of using the internet in May 2019 to download and possess material, some of which depicts the sexual abuse of children younger than 12, according to court documents.

If convicted, he faces up to 20 years of imprisonment and fines up to $250,000 on each count.

Wiedemann declined to set a bond for Duggar who is being held at the Washington County jail. He appeared at the hearing via Zoom. She set a detention hearing for May 5.

Wiedemann said if Duggar is allowed to bond out he will be required to live with a third party custodian who can assure he remains in compliance with terms of bond. He must reside in a location with no minors or where there will be no minors visiting without supervision.

Duggar and his wife Anna announced on Instagram about a week ago she's pregnant with their seventh child, a baby girl.

U.S. Marshals arrested Duggar on Thursday. A pretrial hearing was set for July 1 and a July 6 court date was set before U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks.

Duggar told Wiedemann, when asked, he has never been treated for a mental illness.

The Duggar family posted a short comment on their Facebook page.

"We appreciate your continued prayers for our family at this time. The accusations brought against Joshua today are very serious," the post said. "It is our prayer that the truth, no matter what it is, will come to light, and that this will all be resolved in a timely manner. We love Josh and Anna and continue to pray for their family."

Duggar is represented by Travis Story, Gregory Payne and Justin Gelfend.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Carly Marshall and Dustin Roberts, and William G. Clayman, a trial attorney with the Justice Department's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section.

In November 2019, reports surfaced federal authorities had served a search warrant at the address of a used car dealership, Wholesale Motorcars, run by Duggar.

Federal Homeland Security Investigations didn't deny sending agents but said inquiries should go to the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas. The office had no comment.

The Duggar family released a statement at the time saying, "As to any investigation being conducted, to our knowledge, no member of our family is a target of any investigation of any kind by any local, state, or federal agency."

A troubled past

Duggar is the oldest of 19 children of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar. The family were stars of the TLC cable channel show 19 Kids and Counting. The show was canceled and reruns of the show were pulled after In Touch magazine released a report May 21, 2015, that Josh Duggar had been the subject of a Springdale police investigation that he fondled young girls in the family home. TLC later canceled the show.

Another show, Counting On, staring some of the Duggar siblings, was still airing in 2020, the last episode aired Sept. 22 on TLC. So far, TLC hasn't announced whether it has renewed Counting On for another season.

Duggar, then 14, revealed in March 2002 to his parents he had run his hands over young girls in the family home as they slept, the parents said in an interview aired June 3, 2015, by Fox News. The parents told the girls, disciplined their son and took precautions, but didn't seek outside assistance, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar said.

The fact Josh Duggar confessed before anyone found out about the behavior and showed remorse gave them hope the young man would change his ways, the Duggars said.

Duggar told them in July 2002 he took similar advantage of girls who had fallen asleep on the family couch, they said, and made a third admission in March 2003 he touched two girls while they were awake. By then, five girls, including four sisters and a house guest, had been fondled, the parents said.

The Duggars took him to report what he had done to an Arkansas State Police employee, according to the Springdale Police report. The corporal didn't report the matter to the state's child abuse hotline as required by law.

Springdale Police didn't learn of the incident until someone anonymously called the abuse hotline in 2006. By then, the statute of limitation had run out on any applicable criminal charges. Springdale Police were told when the magazine filed the Freedom of Information Act request the protections afforded to juvenile offenders no longer applied.

Josh Duggar moved to Washington, where he worked as a lobbyist for the conservative Family Research Council. He resigned in May 2015, the same day the In Touch magazine report was published.

Josh Duggar filed a lawsuit in March 2018 against local officials over release of information to In Touch. Four of his sisters filed a separate lawsuit. The sisters are Jill Dillard, Jessa Seewald, Jinger Vuolo and Joy Duggar.

Josh Duggar's lawsuit in Washington County Circuit Court claimed outrage, invasion of privacy, invasion of privacy by intrusion upon seclusion and deprivation of rights under the Arkansas Civil Rights Act of 1993. The case was thrown out. The lawsuit basically mirrored a previous federal lawsuit that was dismissed in 2017.

An appeals court found a state law cited by Duggar didn't prohibit release of the documents because Duggar was no longer a juvenile at the time the investigation was done in December 2006. They also said Duggar failed to say how he suffered any damages or why he should expect privacy when he and his family were subjects of a reality television series "from which a certain level of celebrity locally, nationally and internationally was attributable to each and every member of the immediate family."

The sisters sued Springdale and Washington County officials in May 2017 claiming they improperly released redacted police investigation documents to In Touch magazine, which published the information and allowed the girls to be identified.

The sisters' lawsuit claims their due process rights under the Arkansas Constitution and the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution were violated by disclosing the reports and details of the investigation to the magazine. The lawsuit alleges publicizing their trauma subjected the women and their families "to extreme mental anguish and emotional distress."

That case is still pending, four years on, though most of the defendants and many of their claims have been dismissed.

U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks, at a status hearing Thursday -- the day Joshua Duggar was arrested -- said he wants to hear the girls' case in September, if at all possible. The case is set for Sept. 20 in Fayetteville.

Jim Bob Duggar, the patriarch of the family, served in the Arkansas House of Representatives from 1999 through 2002.


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