A 23-year-old Helena man accused of developing a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl he met via the Internet, and convincing her to come to Montana with him from her Oregon home, pleaded guilty Thursday to two charges in connection with the case.

Shawn Russell entered his guilty pleas to traveling with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor and possession of child pornography. He is jailed awaiting sentencing on March 17, 2011, and faces a mandatory minimum of five years in prison and could be sentenced up to 30 years. Additional penalties include a fine of up to $250,000 and lifetime supervision by a probation officer.

According to court documents, a Helena police detective received a call from police in Pendleton, Ore., saying they had heard that Russell met the underage girl via an online game room in September 2009, and developed a sexual relationship with her.

The mother said she told Russell the girl was a minor, but Russell disputed that in federal court in Helena. Regardless, he admitted that the victim was underage, that the two continued to be in contact through text messages, a web cam and other means. The girl told police the conversations she and Russell had were sexual in nature and included conversations about engaging in sexual activity, even though he knew she was only 15 years old.

In December 2009, Russell traveled to Oregon and picked up the girl, and brought her to Montana, where they continued their sexual relationship. Once the mother located her daughter, she arranged for her to return to Oregon.

In later e-mails, police claim Russell said he had no regrets about what had happened and that her age didn’t matter to him. A search of his computer turned up numerous images of the underage girl engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

He originally was charged with sexual exploitation of children; coercion and enticement; transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity; travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor; and possession of child pornography. Under a plea agreement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will drop most of those charges in exchange for his guilty plea to possessing child pornography and having sex with a minor.

Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or eve.byron@helenair.com

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