Man regrets deleting porn files

His child sex abuse conviction was tossed out, but he gets probation for obstructing justice.

By Kevin Graham, Times Staff Writer
Published February 22, 2008

TAMPA - Ronald Mays panicked two hours before FBI agents arrived at his house to retrieve his laptop computer.

He woke up the morning of Dec. 4, 2006, downloaded a file shredder program and wiped away 6,700 files that prosecutors say government computer analysts couldn't recover.

The U.S. Attorney's Office accused Mays, 47, of possibly deleting hundreds of child pornography images and obstructing an investigation. The FBI planned to review Mays' computer as agents looked into claims by an 8-year-old Pinellas County girl that he inappropriately touched her on an airplane.

As he has done repeatedly in the past 15 months, Mays denied those allegations Thursday while awaiting sentencing on a jury conviction of obstructing justice. He said he deleted the files from his computer because of what his family might learn.

"I was embarrassed and ashamed of the adult Web sites I was visiting," Mays said in court. "I wanted to keep them from my wife and family. Instead, I created the impression I was trying to hide something from law enforcement. I just messed up."

The Palm Harbor businessman said he regrets the mistake. For making it, U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday sentenced Mays to 18 months probation, the first six to be served on home detention, and fined him $2,500.

"It's necessary to remember that this is not a sentencing that involves the sexual molestation of a child or the manufacturing or distribution of child pornography," Merryday said.

The judge called what Mays did by deleting the files "an impulsive and irrational offense."

"I find no reliable evidence on this record that Mr. Mays is a pedophile. I'm not going to treat him as a pedophile," Merryday said.

In February 2007, a jury found Mays guilty of sexual abuse of a minor. The girl said Mays sat next to her on a Southwest Airlines flight from Tampa to Detroit on June 20, 2006. She testified at trial that Mays put his hand on her leg and also touched her chest as he reached across her.

Mays has always denied sitting next to the girl, saying someone else took his seat that day.

"I have absolutely no ill will to the victim or her family," Mays said. "No child should have to endure something like this. But nor should an innocent man."

Merryday tossed out the conviction and ordered a new trial, saying he made a mistake by allowing prosecutors to introduce testimony that Mays allegedly erased child pornography from his laptop. Prosecutors later dropped the sexual abuse charge because the girl's parents didn't want her to endure a second trial.

Kevin Graham can be reached at kgraham@sptimes.com or 813 226-3433.