St. George man enters plea following child sexual exploitation sting

5th District Court in St. George, Utah | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A St. George man has pleaded guilty to a charge of enticing a minor stemming from an online sting operation conducted by federal agents earlier this year.

John Russell Potter, 40, of St. George, booking photo posted in Washington County, Utah, June 15, 2019 | File photo courtesy of Washington County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

On Thursday, 40-year-old John Russell Potter appeared in 5th District Court where he pleaded guilty to one second-degree felony count of enticing a minor by internet or text.

In March, Potter was one of five suspects arrested after agents posing as juveniles on social media platforms made arrangements to meet up with the suspects. All of the men showed up at various locations in St. George where they thought they would be meeting children age 12-13 for sexual acts, according to probable cause statements filed in support of the arrests.

During Thursday’s resolution hearing, Potter’s defense attorney, Gary Pendleton, said an agreement in the case had been reached with the state, in which prosecutors agreed they would not be asking for any jail or prison sentence in exchange for the guilty plea. Instead, the state will follow guidelines set forth by Adult Probation and Parole.

Prosecutor Ryan Shaum said the state “is confident with Mr. Potter’s history that AP&P will come back with a recommendation of supervised probation, and I am agreeing to that.”

Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 12.

The stipulations in the plea agreement in this particular case were included in part due to a second unrelated case filed June 14 that is still pending with the courts involving two charges — one third-degree felony count of theft and one class A misdemeanor count of computer crimes.

The second case stems from an investigation in April involving a convenience store where Potter worked as a manager. Police allege that he stole more than $2,000 worth of loyalty points from a number of the store’s customers.

The alleged theft was discovered after an audit by the company revealed that Potter had been accessing certain files in the software program that went beyond what he was authorized to open in order to transfer points from customers’ cards onto at least three cards that only he had access to.

Auditors tracked specific transfers made from each customer’s card and determined how and when the points were used. The audit showed that the total number of points allegedly transferred to the three cards belonging to Potter was equivalent to more than $2,027. Of that, police say Potter spent nearly $1,500 in purchases made at the stores.

The defendant was arrested June 13 and posted bond the following day.

During Thursday’s hearing, Pendleton said there is a possible agreement with the state on this case as well. District Judge John J. Walton said the court would address it during the sentencing hearing already scheduled in December.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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