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Inside a U.S. Marshals Sex Offender Investigation

For immediate release

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Middle District of Florida issued a press release March 26, 2024.  “Jumbotron Hacker and Prolific Child Molester Sentenced to 220 Years in Federal Prison,” the headline read. 

A U.S. District judge had sentenced Samuel Arthur Thompson, a 53-year-old St. Augustine man, to 220 years in federal prison, to be followed by a lifetime of supervised release, for producing, receiving, and possessing child sex abuse material while required to register as a sex offender, violating the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, sending unauthorized damaging commands to a protected computer, and possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. The court also ordered Thompson to forfeit computers and a firearm that were used in the offenses. Thompson was convicted by a federal jury on Nov. 17, 2023. 

DOJ-issued press releases usually include a paragraph, usually near the bottom of the page, giving credit to the all the agencies that contributed to the case.   

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Laura Cofer Taylor, Brenna Falzetta, and Adam Duso. The asset forfeiture is being handled by Assistant United States Attorneys Mai Tran and Jennifer Harrington.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Marshals Service.

Deputy U.S. Marshal Ricky Tippie

The Marshals collaborate with partner agencies to investigate and pursue noncompliant offenders, placing the highest priority on those who have committed violent acts and crimes against children. Samuel Arthur Thompson was a high priority for the Marshals, one deputy marshal in particular -- Ricky Tippie, the District Sex Offender Coordinator for Middle Florida.  

Since the passage of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, the U.S. Marshals Service has been the lead federal agency to investigate violations of federal sex offender registration laws and to assist state, local, tribal and territorial jurisdictions in locating and apprehending sex offenders who fail to comply with their registration requirements.

“The SOIB mission is a collateral duty for me, and I can’t dedicate as much time to it as I would like because of other operational duties,” Tippie said. “Working the mission is fulfilling but never-ending. Every Failure to Register case is potentially preventing further victimization.”

Born in Ohio, Tippie joined the U.S. Marines at 18, then went to work for TSA while going to school full time, graduating from Ohio State University in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology. From 2007-2014 he worked as a background investigator for OPM and in 2012 earned a master’s degree in National Security Studies from American Public University. 

“I wanted to pursue law enforcement out of high school and the Marine Corps,” Tippie said. “I was in the application process with several other federal entities and the USMS called first. I couldn’t pass up the chance with the Marshals.”

He got on with the USMS in 2014 and worked the first four years at DC Superior Court, then transferred to Jacksonville, Florida, in 2018. 

On Jan. 31, 2020, Tippie was in his office in Jacksonville working on another USM-11 (Report of Investigation). He recorded that he’d been notified Filipino agents had delivered Samuel Thompson to the U.S. Marshals in Central California after Thompson’s deportation from the Philippines. Thompson had been seen for his initial appearance and detention hearing and was being held pending transportation to Jacksonville.  

The last line in Tippie’s report read “Fugitive investigation closed.”

Eighteen months earlier, Roger Pendergrass of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement had called Tippie to inform him that Thompson, a registered sex offender living in St. Augustine, may have fled the U.S. to the Philippines without registering his travel as required by the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act-International Megan’s Law, which had been in effect since Oct. 31, 2017.  

The IML and relevant SORNA guidelines require all registered sex offenders to report international travel to their respective sex offender registry at least 21 days prior to departure from the U.S.

On the macro level the IML was brought about to combat child exploitation through sex tourism, Tippie said. It is a mechanism to give advance notice to countries that covered offenders intend to travel to the country.  It is up to the country to admit the offender or not. For the Thompson case specifically, he fled after the search warrant was executed on his home and was required to inform the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Department of his travel plans.  The Philippines is a known hotbed for child sex tourism, Tippie said.

Thompson had an active arrest warrant issued by the ATF for felon in possession of a firearm and was the subject of active state and federal investigations for failure to register as a sex offender. The 13th Judicial Circuit Court in Mobile County, Alabama, had convicted Thompson in April 1998 of sexual abuse in the first degree and in August 1999 of sexual assault – sodomy in the second degree. He was sentenced to five years confinement and required to register for life as a sex offender in the state of Alabama.  Thompson also had a lifetime registration requirement in the state of Florida. He registered initially in Duval County Dec. 5, 2001, and had maintained registration in Florida since that time.  He last registered July 16, 2019, with St. Johns County. 

Tippie said Florida is one of the stricter states when it comes to sex offender registration. While some states have a time frame of registration requirements depending on the severity of their offense, if an offender qualifies for Florida’s registry, they will not come off without a court order. 

Aug. 8, 2019, Tippie accessed FDLE’s Sexual Offender and Predator System and confirmed that Thompson had not provided a travel itinerary to the St. Johns County authorities, even though he’d signed acknowledgements of the requirement to do so in 2016, 2017, 2018 and as recently as July 16, 2019.  

The next day Tippie spoke with ICE Special Agent Justin Demoura, who informed him that Thompson had traveled on an Asiana Airlines flight July 26, 2019, through San Francisco to South Korea, terminating in Manila, Philippines. 

Tippie then called Detective Erin Winters of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office Sexual Predator and Offender Tracking Unit to ascertain if Thompson had filed his travel itinerary with them.  Winters confirmed Thompson had not filed an itinerary for international travel, nor had he ever filed a domestic or international travel itinerary with her office.

On Aug. 15, 2019, Tippie received a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Person Encounter List which confirmed Thompson had traveled internationally on July 26, leaving San Francisco International Airport on Asiana Airlines Flight Number 211 and arriving at the Incheon International Airport in South Korea.  Tippie also learned that Thompson had departed the U.S. aboard Delta Flight 337 from Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta on July 6, 2019, arriving in Nassau, Bahamas, at the Nassau International Airport, and that he had returned July 14 to the U.S. through Atlanta on Delta Airlines Flight 286. Tippie had requested the list for prosecution purposes. It would be used at Thompson’s trial.

Based on what he had learned, Tippie wrote in his report, he believed there was probable cause Thompson had violated 18 USC 2250(b) – Failure to Register–International Travel Reporting Violations. He would request to open an investigation on Thompson.

The investigation request was routed to the district’s warrants supervisor for approval and monitored by the Sex Offender Investigations Branch, Tippie said. 

“We generally open an investigation after a referral from agency partners. Some investigative referrals come from our HQ, some from other USMS offices, and state or local partners.  If I receive a referral, I will open a case and decide how to route the case, whether to attempt prosecution or refer to our local partners for prosecution,” he said. 

Aug. 19, 2019, Tippie was in Winters’ office in St. Augustine discussing a sex offender operation that the USMS was funding for the sheriff’s office. They were also discussing the Thompson case. Three days earlier Winters had sworn out a warrant for Thompson’s arrest for two violations of Florida State Statute 943.0435—Failure of Sex Offender to Report Residence Change to Another Country.  

At approximately 11 a.m., Winters received a phone call from a number she knew to belong to Thompson.  She placed the call on speaker phone and recorded the call with her cell phone. Tippie remained quiet as he listened to Thompson explain to Winters that he’d queried himself on FDLE’s sex offender registry and noticed his status had been changed to absconded and wanted to apologize to Winters. He said he’d accidentally put himself in absconded status and did not mean to do so. He admitted to Winters that he was out of the country but would not give his location, only that there was an ocean between them. He told Winters he was not in good shape mentally, that he intended to look into returning to the U.S. and that he would call Winters back at a later date.

Sept. 3, 2019, Tippie was notified that Thompson had been arrested in the Philippines by that country’s Bureau of Immigration Fugitive Search Unit after they were notified of Thompson’s passport revocation.  Thompson would remain at the BI Detention Center in Bicutan, Taguig, until a deportation order was generated, at which time the U.S. Embassy would be notified to schedule his deportation.

Sept. 13, 2019, Tippie received Thompson’s certified border crossing from DHS. Thompson had departed Atlanta July 6, 2019, and arrived in Nassau using a U.S. passport. He had returned to the U.S. from Nassau on July 14 using the same passport. Thompson used the same passport July 26 to travel from San Francisco to Incheon, South Korea.

Sept. 12, 2019, Tippie served subpoenas on Delta Airlines and Asiana Airlines for flight information related to Thompson’s international travel in July. He received flight records from Asiana via email a week later. Thompson had traveled on a ticket issued July 26, 2019, by a travel agency in Cummings, Georgia, paid for with a credit card and cash. He did not have a travel companion. He departed on Asiana Airlines Flight 211 on July 26 from San Francisco to Incheon, South Korea. On July 28 he continued his trip from Incheon aboard Flight 707 to Clark International Airport in the Province of Pampanga, Philippines.  

Oct. 1, 2019, ATF Special Agent Mark Latham, whom Tippie knew from other federal prosecutions he’d brought to the courthouse, requested USMS assistance in the apprehension of Thompson from the Philippines. An arrest warrant was assigned to Tippie. Two days later Tippie sent a lead request to the U.S. Marshals International Investigations Branch at headquarters requesting assistance in the deportation of Thompson back to the U.S. 

“I had the criminal investigation open with Thompson and was in contact with the other agencies involved, so the fugitive investigation stayed with me,” he said. 

According to the USAO press release, Thompson had been hired as a contractor by the Jacksonville Jaguars around 2013 to consult on the design and installation of the Jaguars’ new video board network, referred to as a Jumbotron, and later to operate the Jumbotron on gamedays.  Thompson’s contract with the Jaguars required him to report his conviction, but he had not done so. In January 2018, the Jaguars determined not to renew Thompson’s contract after learning of his conviction and status as a registered sex offender.

Before the expiration of Thompson’s contract in March 2018, Thompson installed remote access software on a spare server in the Jaguars’ server room.  Thompson then remotely accessed computers that controlled the Jumbotron during three 2018 season NFL games, causing the video boards to repeatedly malfunction.

After conducting an investigation, the Jaguars determined that the outages were being caused by a malicious actor sending commands via the spare server. On December 16, 2018, the Jaguars set up a “honeypot” by putting the server on its own network and removing its access to the other computers that controlled the jumbotron. During the next NFL game, the spare server was again remotely accessed and attempted to be used to send commands to computers controlling the Jumbotron. The Jaguars were able to capture the Internet Protocol address of the intruder – which the FBI traced to Thompson’s residence, the release said.

In July 2019, the FBI executed a federal search warrant at Thompson’s home and seized a number of his computers. They also seized a firearm from Thompson’s nightstand, which he was prohibited from possessing as a convicted felon.

Log files from Thompson’s iPhone, iPad, and two laptops showed that each of those devices had been used to remotely access the spare server. Additionally, the FBI found thousands of images and hundreds of videos on Thompson’s personal devices depicting CSAM, including images and videos depicting the sexual abuse of young children, bondage and torture of children, and bestiality. The CSAM also included a video and series of photos that Thompson had produced in June 2019. Thompson’s voice could be heard speaking to the children at the beginning of the video, which was taken in Thompson’s living room. A review of Thompson’s iPad further revealed that he had been searching the dark web for CSAM at the time the FBI knocked on his door with the search warrant. 

Subsequent interviews of three male children known to Thompson in 2019 revealed that Thompson had molested two of the children, exposed himself to them, exposed the children to CSAM, spoken to the children about sex and masturbation, and had encouraged the children to play a “game” wherein the children were required to take off their clothes and run around. It was while the children were playing the “game” that Thompson produced CSAM. The children were 7, 8, and 10 years old at the time.

Thompson traveled to the Bahamas on a work trip from July 6-14, 2019. On July 15, Thompson registered as a sex offender and failed to report this travel as required by SORNA. That same day, Thompson also received CSAM via the dark web. 

On July 27, 2019, Thompson fled to the Philippines – once again failing to report his travel. Thompson’s passport was revoked, and he was deported from the Philippines on January 31, 2020, and was arrested by the FBI upon arrival in the United States and later ordered detained pending trial.

Further investigation by the FBI revealed that Thompson had sexually exploited two additional children, including one child Thompson encountered as he was fleeing from prosecution in July 2019, the release said.

“This case exemplifies the unrelenting tenacity of investigators who pursue justice for innocent victims of crime,” FBI Jacksonville’s Acting Special Agent in Charge Coult Markovsky said in the release. “Samuel Thompson repeatedly abused and exploited innocent children, inflicting immeasurable hurt on his victims. He also abused and exploited his employer by installing malicious software to manipulate their systems, which could have caused significantly more damage if not detected.

Let this sentence serve as a pledge to all victims of crime that the FBI and our partners will doggedly pursue those who prey on them.”

Feb. 6, 2020, Tippie served a subpoena on AVL Productions President Stephen Unkelbach for records related to international travel by Thompson, compensation records, correspondence between Thompson and AVL, and any records related to Thompson’s termination from AVL.

Tippie said Unkelbach was cooperative, answered all his questions and provided all requested documents. In a sworn statement he said he’d requested Thompson to work a contract in the Bahamas from July 6-14, 2019, and that he’d paid Thompson $6,400 in cash July 15. Unkelbach provided Tippie copies of Delta Airlines tickets AVL had purchased for Thompson’s travel to the Bahamas. He also provided Tippie the emails between himself and Thompson regarding the Bahamas trip. In an email exchange June 7, 2019, Thompson told Unkelbach he intended to travel to the Bahamas. 

But Thompson did not relay the same information to any law enforcement authorities in St. Johns County, as he had promised to do Jan. 9, 2019, when he signed an FDLE Sexual Predator/Offender Registration Form, acknowledging Condition 13, which states: 

“If I intend on establishing a permanent, temporary, or transient residence in another state, jurisdiction, or country other than the State of Florida, I MUST report in person to the sheriff’s office in the county of my current residence within 48 hours before the date that I intend to leave this state to establish residence in another state or jurisdiction or at least 21 days  before my planned departure date if the intended residence of 5 days or more is outside of the United States. I MUST provide the address, municipality, county, state, and country of intended residence. For international travel I MUST also provide my travel information, including, but not limited to, expected departure and return dates, flight number, airport of departure, cruise port of departure, or any other means of intended travel. If I do not know of my travel outside of the United States 21 days before my departure date, then I MUST report in person to the sheriff’s office in the county of my current residence as soon as possible before my departure. FAILURE TO REPORT THIS INFORMATION IS A THIRD-DEGREE FELONY.”     

Tippie noted in his report that previous investigative queries had shown Thompson did not provide his travel itinerary to FDLE or St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office for any foreign travel.

The lead Tippie had sent to HQ in October was closed out Feb. 21, 2020, with the following summation: On or about Jan. 31, 2020, Thompson was deported from the Philippines escorted by NBI agents to LAX Airport in Los Angeles, where he was subsequently turned over to USMS District of Central California without reported incident.  

Oct. 13, 2021, Thompson was in custody in Central California awaiting further court proceedings. He was scheduled for status conference Dec. 20, 2021, and a trial date was set to commence Jan. 3, 2022. In the coming weeks, Tippie would record similar information, updating his USM-11s.

Feb. 4, 2022, Tippie noted that Thompson’s status conference was now slated for April 18, 2022, and a trial date set for May 2, 2022.

A motion to continue trial was filed May 18, 2022. Next court date was not filed.

But the delay had nothing to do with COVID. Thompson was sent for a competency evaluation. Tippie said his wait for transport to a federal facility caused a slight delay, but the major delay was that he insisted on representing himself. Thompson’s delay worked against him, Tippie said.  More evidence and victims were found while waiting for trial. 

In November 2022, Thompson’s trial date was set for May 1, 2023, and in May 2023, the trial was rescheduled for Nov. 6, 2023.

Thompson was found guilty Nov. 17, 2023, of two counts of 18 USC 2250(b). Sentencing was scheduled for March 25, 2024.

On March 25, Thompson was sentenced to 120 months each on the two counts of 18 USC 2250(b).

Tippie wrote in his report, “This case will be closed with the designation of Closed Guilty-Federal.” 

“The U.S. Marshals Service remains relentless in its pursuit of sex offenders who attempt to evade justice no matter where they flee for the crimes they commit against children,” said Bill Berger, U.S. Marshal for the Middle District of Florida.

“Thompson earned every year he received and more,” Tippie said when he learned of Thompson’s sentence. “It’s assured he won’t be able to victimize anyone else.” 

April 4, Tippie and Winters were two of four recipients of an email from Laura Cofer Taylor, Assistant U.S. Attorney for Middle Florida: “I am so happy to let you know that you have been selected to receive the US Attorney’s Office 2023 Agent of the Year Award for National Security and Cybercrime for your work on the Samuel Arthur Thompson case.”

The awards ceremony was slated for 10 a.m. April 11. 

U.S. Federal Law on Sex Offender Registration

18 U.S.C. § 2250- Failure to register
Section 2250 of Title 18, United States Code, makes it a federal offense for sex offenders required to register pursuant to the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, to knowingly fail to register or update a registration as required.

State convicted sex offenders may also be prosecuted under this statute if the sex offender knowingly fails to register or update a registration as required, and engages in interstate travel, foreign travel, or enters, leaves, or resides on an Indian reservation.

A sex offender who fails to properly register may face fines and up to 10 years in prison.  Furthermore, if a sex offender knowingly fails to update or register as required and commits a violent federal crime, he or she may face up to 30 years in prison under this statute.

Additional information about the U.S. Marshals Service can be found at


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