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Iowa man sentenced to 27 years for production of child pornography following Secret Service investigation

Published By
U.S. Attorney's Office
Published Date

PEORIA, Ill. –Michael E. Shell, 52, of Melrose, Iowa, was sentenced on December 21, 2021, to to 27 years in prison, to be followed by 10 years of supervised release, for production of child pornography. Shell must also register as a sex offender once he is released.

At the sentencing hearing, the government presented evidence that Shell sexually abused a minor victim for approximately five years – when the victim was between 9 and 14 years old. Shell took photographs and videos of the abuse, which occurred while the victim lived within the Central District of Illinois.  Photographs from the search warrant at Shell’s residence in Iowa revealed a child-sized sex doll and school pictures of the minor victim on Shell’s refrigerator.  Law enforcement also seized multiple devices that contained dozens of images and videos of the abuse. Evidence presented in court included testimony that the abuse occurred hundreds of times and only ended when the minor victim demanded the abuse stop at the age of 14.

A statement prepared by the minor victim was read to the court, describing how damaging Shell’s manipulation and abuse was.

Also at the sentencing hearing, Senior U.S. District Judge Michael Mihm found that Shell intentionally groomed the minor victim and questioned whether he was really remorseful. The judge noted the disconnect between the letters of support for Shell written by family and friends and the conduct at issue: the lengthy and intentional molestation of the victim. The judge found that the victim had suffered irreparable harm from the abuse, both psychologically and physically.

Shell was indicted in May 2019 and pleaded guilty in April 2021.

The statutory penalties for production of child pornography are at least 15 years and up to 30 years’ imprisonment; a maximum lifetime term of supervised release; a fine of up to $250,000; and restitution, if requested.

“This case exemplifies our active and tireless pursuit of justice on behalf of minor victims,” said United States Attorney Gregory K. Harris. “Predators who groom and sexually exploit our community’s most vulnerable will be investigated and prosecuted, just as Shell was.”

The United States Secret Service investigated the case, with direct assistance of the Canton Police Department and Peoria County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Katherine G. Legge and Paul B. Morris represented the government in the prosecution.

The case against Shell was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative by the Department of Justice to combat the epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to better locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit