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Mom claims state paid pornographers to babysit

An Oak Harbor woman says she is planning to sue the state Department of Social and Health Services for allowing her children to be cared for by a couple who turned out to be child pornographers.

April Hawley, who was receiving income assistance from the state, said the department approved and even paid for the child care, which was provided by James Lee and Tracey Wright. At the time, there was apparently no record of the Wrights being involved in pornography.

Hawley is still awaiting word back from the FBI on whether the Wrights used any of her children to create pornographic pictures.

The Wrights were arrested last spring in a FBI sting of their trailer in a mobile home park at the north end of Oak Harbor. Agents found hundreds of images of child pornography, including images of an infant being raped by an adult man, on the couple’s computer.

Tracey Wright, 29, had been running a child porn Web site from her home. Some of the images show 30-year-old James Wright engaged in sexual acts with children under the age of 12.

James Lee Wright, 30, recently pleaded guilty in federal court to production of material involving the sexual exploitation of children. Tracey L. Wright pleaded guilty to one count of receipt of material involving the sexual exploitation of children and one count of possession of materials involving the sexual exploitation of children.

In addition, Hawley claimed she later found out that Child Protective Services had an “open case” on the Wrights, who have two children, and Tracey Wright was supposed to be attending parenting classes. An open case would mean that there’s been an allegation of child abuse or neglect.

Furthermore, Tracey Wright is the mother of Nicholas Stroeder, the 13-year-old sex offender who made statewide headlines because DSHS couldn’t find anyone willing to care for him. He ended up living for awhile at the CPS building north of Oak Harbor before being moved out of state.

Hawley said the Wrights babysat her four children from February until the couple were arrested in April of this year. She said she felt safe allowing the Wrights to care for her kids because DSHS had approved the couple and made them sign forms.

The state paid for the child care, Hawley said, by giving her the money, which she in turn paid to the Wrights.

While DSHS officials didn’t know about the child pornography, Hawley said they must have known about the open CPS case (CPS is part of DSHS) and that Tracey Wright’s first son didn’t turn out so well.

“I want people to know what DSHS is capable of,” she said. “If they did this to my kids, they may be putting other kids in danger.”

Officials at DSHS said they couldn’t discuss the specifics of the case because of confidentiality requirements. But Rachel Langen, director of the division of child care and early learning, said the department does provide child care money for income-eligible people.

Langen explained that DSHS pays licensed family homes and centers directly for providing child care to qualifying families. In addition, the agency funds child care that is provided in the child’s home. The agency writes a check to the parent or parents, who are then supposed to pay the babysitter.

Langen said these in-home child care providers can be completely unlicensed and are chosen by the parents. She said the department does a criminal background check of the person and has a list of “disqualifying crimes.”

The agency will not pay for child care if the babysitter has committed one of these crimes. If the provider has committed other “non-disqualifying crimes,” Langen said they will consider the suitability of the provider on a case-by-case basis.

So if the Wrights didn’t have criminal records, or if they hadn’t committed certain crimes, they may not have raised any red flags for DSHS.

Hawley, a single mother, said she contacted the FBI after hearing about the Wrights’ arrest. The agents are trying to identify the children in the Wrights’ pornography collection and Hawley wanted to know if her children were in any pictures — or if the couple had assaulted her kids.

She has reason to believe they might have. Hawley said one of her children told her that he had a secret he can’t tell her because someone told him not to. Her two toddlers, she said, became “very difficult to change and bathe.”

Hawley said FBI agents came to her home weeks ago and took photos of her children, which they will compare to images on the Wrights’ computer. She hasn’t heard back from them yet.

Hawley’s attorney, Daniel Fasso of Oak Harbor, said he’s waiting for results of the FBI’s investigation before potentially moving forward in the case.

Hawley met the Wrights when they were neighbors in the trailer park. A friendship was natural since the Wrights have a child the same age as Hawley’s twins. Hawley said Tracey Wright became an especially close friend while James “was really attached” to her little girl.

Hawley said she never suspected that the couple was “into” child porn and was horrified to find out the truth. She knew they had a computer and spent a lot of time on it, but she said she’s surprised they were even sophisticated enough to run a Web site.

“They are sort of awkward people,” she said. “They’re kind of like little hicks, like from the south.”

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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