A Fitchburg man who admitted he took nude photos of a 15-year-old girl and sent them to others interested in sex with the girl was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years in federal prison.
John Gilbert, 47, fought back tears as he told U.S. District Judge James Peterson that he was sorry for what he did and for the grief that it caused his family and friends.
“I’d like to state I was wrong,” he said. “I was wrong for the actions that brought me in front of this court.”
Gilbert and another man were arrested in March 2016 after the girl called police following a sexual encounter with the men at a South Side motel. Initially she told police that she was sexually assaulted on a bike path, but later told police that the assault happened at the motel. There, she told police, she was subjected to rough sex by Gilbert and the other man, Brian V. Holmes, 38, of Madison.
Gilbert had also introduced the girl to other men for sex on other occasions, using photos of the girl to interest other men in her, which Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Altman argued gave the photos value to Gilbert. Though the girl had freely participated in sexual encounters with the men, Altman said, the last one at the motel with Gilbert and Holmes “clearly traumatized her” and prompted her to call police.
Altman argued for a sentence for Gilbert that fell within advisory federal sentencing guidelines for the crimes, which would have been at least 20 years in prison. If Peterson did not want to sentence within the guidelines, she said, Gilbert should receive at least 15 years behind bars.
Gilbert was also convicted of possessing nude photos that he took of a 17-year-old girl.
“They were children,” Altman said, while Gilbert was a man in his 40s who knew full well that sex with minors is illegal.
“This is what makes him dangerous,” Altman said. “This is what makes him every parent’s worst nightmare.”
Gilbert’s lawyer, federal defender Joseph Bugni, argued for the 10-year sentence, the minimum he was allowed to seek under a plea agreement reached in April.
Bugni said that over the years, Gilbert has struggled as he was treated for sex addiction. Sexual encounters that resulted from social media contacts were not only with the teenage girls but with many adults as well, Bugni said, and Gilbert has no sexual interest in younger children more typical of those who wind up in court for creating child pornography.
Bugni said that Gilbert’s issues began with an addiction to pornography, which led him to seek out physical encounters. The acts were well hidden from his wife and children and their friends, who regarded Gilbert as a model parent. Many sent letters to Peterson supporting Gilbert.
Peterson said he agreed with Bugni that the “centerpiece” of the crimes were the sexual assaults of the girl, not the child pornography produced when Gilbert photographed the girl. Photographing her, however, “represents an additional insult to the victim,” Peterson said, adding that there remains a risk that her photos will wind up being more widely distributed on the internet because Gilbert had shared them with others.
Sexual assault charges filed against Gilbert by Dane County prosecutors were dismissed in November, in favor of the federal child pornography prosecution. But at the time, prosecutors said it was possible the sexual assault charges could be re-filed after the federal case was finished.
Peterson called the 10-year sentence a “stout sentence,” and ordered that after his release from prison Gilbert remain under supervision for an additional 10 years.