Michael Malcom, a 56-year-old former Storm Lake businessman, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison, a year after being indicted on charges of sexual exploitation of children, conspiracy to sexually exploit children, and interstate transportation of a minor with intent to engage in prostitution.
After leaving employment in Storm Lake in the mid-1990s, Malcom relocated to Humboldt, where he was owner and president of Humboldt Ag Services, which did $500,000-$1 million in business a year, according to one business website. With little criminal record, he seemed an upstanding entrepreneur and family man.
All that began to unravel in fall, 2010, when Malcom reportedly pulled into an apartment complex and asked a woman there where he could find a teenage resident. When questioned, he claimed to be the girl's uncle.
However, the woman he asked for directions was the mother of the girl, and when confronted about what a
middle aged man was doing looking for the girl, he fled.
When the woman questioned her daughter, a shocking story began to take shape. According to the teenager, a family friend she had stayed with for a short time had allegedly been working as a prostitute and had apparently arranged for the man, one of her clients, to take nude photos of the girl multiple times at a local motel while he performed sexual acts on himself. The girl did as she was asked, wearing and removing the clothing the man specified for her, and each time the family friend was paid and gave the girl a portion of the money. The girl said she refused requests to perform acts on the man, but reported that he had told her he liked younger girls and asked the teenager if she knew anyone younger than herself that she could arrange to be with him. He also allegedly told her he had similar arrangements with two other girls. After the mother reported the situation to police, an officer took the girl back to the area, and she pointed out the Economy Inn in Fort Dodge as the site of the incidents. The girl said that the prostitute called the man "Humboldt" or "Mike."
A phone number in the juvenile's possession led to Malcom, and the girl's mother picked him out of a photo lineup as the man she had seen near their home asking for her daughter. A search of his home turned up a satchel with a Pioneer seed logo - consistent with Malcom's past employment dating to Storm Lake - containing a digital camera and storage media, with pornographic images and a video of one of the girls performing sex acts on a male.
According to court documents, when one of the girls reportedly asked Malcom if he was afraid his wife would find out about his activities, he replied that he wasn't, because he kept his "collection" of photos and video in his office. Authorities obtained a search warrant for his business and seized items.
Malcom's attorney sought to have the information suppressed, claiming that the warrant application did not establish probable cause for searching the office, and that anything found should be considered "fruit of the same poisoned tree." Prosecution argued that it made common sense to expect that the images Malcom had paid some $1,000 to take would have been kept and stored with others he was believed to have taken of other children, somewhere with access to a computer so they could be viewed. The logical location would be Malcom's home or office, they said. A judge denied the motion to suppress, and Malcom pled guilty a couple of months later before the case could go to trial.
Malcom was charged along with Ashley Prince, then 21, and Nikki Fawcett, 23, both of Fort Dodge. The indictment alleged that between 2007 and 2010, Malcom, Prince, and Fawcett employed, used, persuaded, induced, and enticed one or more minors under the age of 18 to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing child pornography, and that Malcom and Fawcett had transported a juvenile across a state line with intent for the child to engage in prostitution. Prosecutors say Prince admitted helping Malcom in producing the porn.
Malcom was given the 15 years as the minimum possible sentence with no fine, and could have faced up to 60 years in prison, half a million dollars in fines, and five years to life of supervised release if he lived to be released from prison.
An official in the U.S. Attoney's office told the Pilot-Tribune that the judge may have taken Malcom's age and relatively clear criminal record into account in choosing the punishment. He said that Malcom is believed to have engaged in sex or taking pornographic images of six different underage girls, including at least one that was brought across state lines from Nebraska to meet with him, along with adult prostitutes.
The official said there was no evidence indicating the Malcom was involved with illegal activities during his time living in Storm Lake. "It's possible he was, but in going back several years, we were not able to find evidence of it," he said.
Malcom apparently kept the photos and videos only for his own collection, the officials said, noting that no evidence was found of him having sold the images or posted them online.
Counseling and other care has been offered to the girls who were victimized, he added.
Why would a successful business and family man risk all of the trappings of his success for such activity? Without the case coming to a jury, it will likely never be known, the official said.
"You can look at the news and see plenty of powerful and successful men have made forays into this kind of activity in what seems to be very contradictory behavior to people who know their public reputations, including national leaders," he said.
Malcom was being held in a local jail facility pending his sentencing. Officials were not certain where he would be assigned to do his time. There is no possibility of parole in the federal system, so he would be well over 70 years old upon release.
The case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat a growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse.