POCATELLO — A local prosecutor says a Pocatello man accused of sexually abusing two teenage girls for several years and recently conspiring with his wife and son in an attempt to destroy related evidence may soon face federal child pornography charges.
Bannock County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Erin Tognetti told 6th District Judge Aaron Thompson during a Wednesday preliminary hearing for Trenton Jared Powell, 42, that her office has been in communication with U.S. Department of Homeland Security investigators about Powell facing federal child porn charges that carry a mandatory minimum 15-year prison sentence. The federal charges have not yet been filed, according to court records, and prosecutors declined to comment on the nature of the investigation following the hearing.
The remote hearing held via Zoom was for Thompson to decide if prosecutors had enough evidence to send three new felony charges filed against Powell last week to district court for trial. Powell appeared for the hearing from the office of his Pocatello attorney Patrick Davis with Thompson and Tognetti appearing from the Bannock County Courthouse.
The first charge, filed separately, accuses Powell of one felony count of child sexual abuse for causing a child under 16 to witness a sexual act. The charge stems from Powell allegedly showing a 14-year-old girl around 2010 a video on his cellphone of him engaging in sexual acts with another girl to convince her he was not in love with her, the now 26-year-old victim testified in court Wednesday.
The now-adult victim that testified is one of two that Powell is accused of sexually abusing for years about a decade ago, resulting in three felony charges of lewd conduct against children under 16 that prosecutors filed in November 2020. Those three charges were elevated to district court in January and include accusations that Powell manipulated the teenage girls into believing the sexual relationships were acceptable, created fake marriage certificates and both recorded and showed the girls recordings of other girls engaging in sexual acts.
Powell also faces felony charges of attempting to destroy evidence and felony conspiracy.
Powell is alleged to have conspired with his wife and son to perform a remote wipe of his cell phone, which was in police custody, while he was incarcerated at the Bannock County Jail following his arrest last year on the lewd conduct charges.
Powell’s wife, Rebekah, and his son, Triston, are both charged with felony charges for attempting to destroy evidence and conspiracy to destroy evidence as well. Triston and Rebekah both turned themselves in to authorities on Oct. 5 and were booked into jail. Triston was released on Oct. 5 after posting a $10,000 bond and Rebekah was released on Oct. 6 after posting a $20,000 bond.
A Pocatello police detective testified that after seizing Powell’s phone following his arrest on Dec. 2, police placed the device in airplane mode, which allowed for an investigator with the Idaho Falls Police Department to later obtain images and videos via search warrant that depicted what appeared to be sexual acts. The detective also testified that he showed the now-26-year-old victim a cropped photo of an image depicting one of the girl’s in a video from Powell’s phone and she confirmed it was herself shown in the video.
During the detective’s testimony, Tognetti played two recordings of phone conversations between Powell and Rebekah while he was incarcerated. During the recorded jail call, Powell said Triston needed to “immediately” wipe his phone, describing the situation as an “emergency.”
Davis did not argue against Thompson elevating the additional child sex crime against Powell to district court but did contest the two charges for conspiracy and attempting to destroy evidence.
Davis argued that Powell’s urgency surrounding his seized cell phone arose because he recently started a competing automation and technology business and the device contained swaths of proprietary information. He also argued that the state statute that alleges a felony attempt to destroy evidence must include an actual act, and that because the wipe was never successful, no act had been committed.
Thompson ultimately found there was enough evidence to send the two cases involving the three additional felony charges against Powell to district court, stating that he did not believe Powell was not aware of the seriousness of the charges he was facing when he asked to have his wife and son wipe his phone.
After the charges were bound over, Davis provided an oral argument in which he asked Thompson to release Powell on his own recognizance on the new charges or reduce the bond amount from the collective $150,000 amount that was set last week.
Tognetti told the judge about the potential for new federal child porn charges against Powell when arguing against the oral motion, saying federal charges could make Powell a potential flight-risk. She also argued that Powell first posted a $50,000 bond in December upon his initial arrest the day it was set and posted the collective $150,000 bond and was released from jail again last week about 24 hours after his arrest.
Davis had argued a collective bond amount of $150,000 for the new charges was punitive and impacted Powell’s ability to fully represent himself in court, stating the $150,000 bond amount was “grossly excessive” of the bond set in the initial lewd conduct case, which already carried up to three life sentences.
Thompson ruled against Davis’ motion, denying the bond reduction and a request for Powell to remove a GPS ankle monitor Powell was ordered to wear on a condition of his pretrial release.
Powell will soon have an arraignment hearing in district court where he will have the opportunity to enter a plea in the case for the first time. The case is expected to go to trial so long as the parties do not reach a plea agreement, Davis told the Journal after the hearing.
Both Rebekah and Triston are due back in court in front of Thompson for separate preliminary hearings of their own on Oct. 27.
If convicted of even one of the three felony lewd conduct charges filed against him, Powell faces up to life in prison and a fine of up to $50,000. The felony count of child sexual abuse for causing a child under 16 to witness a sexual act that Powell faces carries a maximum sentence of up to 25 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000.
If convicted of the felony charges for attempting to destroy evidence and conspiracy to destroy evidence, Powell, Triston and Rebekah each face up to 10 years in prison and up to $20,000 in fines.