Antonio Cardenas was sentenced to 35 years in federal prison this afternoon after emotional statements from the victim, the youth's mother and sister offered a disturbing peek into child-porn production.
Cardenas, 33, met the child through a mentoring program. His mother told federal judge Clark Waddoups that after her son was teased at school because of a learning disability, she believed he would benefit from an older male role model.
Her son was matched with Cardenas through a nationwide program. He went camping with the boy's family and involved the boy in his family's life, too. "We accepted him as our own," the victim's sister said. "He was included in every aspect of our lives." When she expressed doubts to her mother about Cardenas, they were shot down as being racist accusations, the sister recalled.
But between the third and sixth grade, the boy "acted out," the mother told the court. "I believe that was a result of the abuse."
Cardenas took the boy across state lines to Las Vegas, repeatedly raped him, took photographs of his acts and posted them on the Internet. The victim's mother told Waddoups she had taken notes on all the cases she had been notified of involving individuals facing child-porn charges who had used images of her son. After six months, despite the cases continuing to flood in, she stopped trying to keep up with them. "I no longer had the stomach for it."Cardenas, she told the court, through posting the images, "has made sure these vile crimes will follow [her son] for the rest of his life."
The victim made a brief appearance in court. In a voice raw with
anger, he told Waddoups, "I don't want to see him protected, I want him
put out in main population," referring to how child abusers are typically victimized in prisons if not kept in isolation.
The victim's sister said she couldn't understand how Cardenas could torture her brother, then walk through the door of their family residence as if nothing had happened. "One day [her brother] would realize the full gravity of what has happened to him," she said, referring to the proliferation of the images of his abuse on the Internet.
Cardenas initially did not take responsibility during the investigation, telling an FBI agent, "I did not hurt [the victim]. You're hurting him by making him talk about it," the mother told the court.
But this afternoon, Cardenas, mostly silent, head bowed, told Waddoups it was "hard to ask for forgiveness." He had taken responsibility, he said, and assisted "individuals in the investigation so this kind of thing doesn't happen to other victims." He described his acts as "almost like an addiction, and asked only, he said, for a second chance so he could take "something positive from this situation."
Waddoups noted that while the mandatory minimum was 30 years, it was in his discretion to impose more time. In the psycho-sexual evaluation of Cardenas, Waddoups noted that the undocumented Hispanic—who faces deportation after he has served his sentence—"was a victim of early sexualization" as a child, something he told those assembled in the court that perhaps society should take more account of.
Given the age of the victim and the amount of distribution of the images involved, Waddoups added another five years, taking Cardenas' sentence to 35 years. He will be 68 years old when he completes his sentence.