WORCESTER — The burly man in prison scrubs sat impassively in federal court Monday as prosecutors described his plan to rape, kill, cook, and eat young children in a sound-proof dungeon he had built in the basement of his Worcester home.
After the two-hour hearing, a US District Court judge sentenced Geoffrey Portway, who pleaded guilty in May to seeking to kidnap a child and to possessing and distributing child pornography, to nearly 27 years in federal prison, a few months shy of the maximum sentence.
Portway, a 40-year-old computer programmer from the United Kingdom, was also ordered to pay $15,000 in restitution to five children he victimized by distributing at least 5,700 child pornography files, investigators said in court.
Assistant US Attorney Stacy Dawson Belf said Portway was a man determined to torture and cannibalize children, but defense lawyer Richard Sweeney said the Worcester resident was a man with “issues’’ who only engaged in fantasy role-playing on the Internet.
“The seriousness of these crimes cannot be overstated,’’ Belf said in court. “He makes clear that he is not about role-playing.’’
Belf told US District Court Judge Timothy Hillman that investigators from the Department of Homeland Security were fortunate to have discovered Portway when they did. He was identified through a sweeping international child pornography investigation, called Operation Holitna, which has rescued more than 160 children and resulted in 51 arrests around the world.
In a sentencing recommendation filed by US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz’s office, prosecutors said department investigators followed Internet traffic to Portway’s Worcester home, which they raided in July 2012.
Investigators discovered a massive cache of child pornography, about 20,000 files, including thousands of images of children being sexually abused and others who had been killed and mutilated, along with information that showed Portway was in electronic chat rooms discussing murdering and eating children.
Inside the home, they also discovered the dungeon hidden behind two locked doors in the basement, which had been lined with sound-proofing tiles. In that small space, they found a child-size homemade coffin, a child-size metal cage topped by a steel plate with six places for restraints, butchering kits, castration tools, two freezers, and disposable scalpels.
Federal prosecutors said they also discovered Internet conversations between Portway and a Kansas man, since identified as Michael Arnett, during which the men discussed Portway’s request that Arnett kidnap a child for Portway to torture, murder, and cannibalize.
Arnett has been prosecuted by federal authorities and has since pleaded guilty to child pornography charges in Kansas.
“That is all I live for. I am serious,’’ Portway wrote in one posting when discussing his plans for kidnapped children. “It is the only thing that gets me up in the morning.’’
Portway declined to speak in his defense at the hearing. He pleaded guilty May 6 to solicitation to commit a crime, the kidnapping of a child, and to distribution and possession of child pornography.
“We are very gratified with the sentence,” Ortiz said in a press conference after the sentencing. “I think the long and serious sentence imposed . . . reflects the serious nature of the crimes that he committed, and that these are not victimless crimes.”
Bruce Foucart, special agent in charge of the Homeland Security Department’s investigation unit in Boston, noted that the global child pornography investigation began with the arrest of a Milford man in 2010.
“This is a systemic problem we’re seeing with the Internet,” Foucart said after the hearing. “Because of the availability in an instant [of child pornography], we’re seeing that people think they can hide behind their computers. People think they can remain anonymous. . . . But the fact is they can’t.”
Sweeney said in court that Portway expected to be punished for collecting and sending the child pornography found on his computer.
“Anyone who collects child pornography should be punished,’’ Sweeney said in asking that his client be sentenced to just 20 years in prison. “There is no excuse.’’
But Sweeney told the judge that Portway had no plans to kill and cannibalize children. The butchering kits, the scalpels, and other tools were all “props’’ that he used in his “theater,” the dungeon in his basement. “He immersed himself in a world of fantasy on the Internet . . . and he did his fantasies in the privacy of his own home,” he said.
Sweeney also said Portway led a “troubled life” that included a suicide attempt when he learned that a man that Portway had paid $2,000 had decided against eating him.
Hillman ordered Portway to serve his sentence in a US prison, register as a Level 3 sex offender, and face deportation at the end of his time behind bars.David Abel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davabel. John R. Ellement can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.