A coach and counselor at West Wilkes Middle School in the 2018-19 school year who was charged with sexual exploitation of a minor by Boone police on Feb. 26 is now charged in a superseding federal indictment.
A federal grand jury in Charlotte indicted Frank Darrell Cromwell, 23, of Boone on Aug. 22 on 21 counts, including production of child pornography, enticement of a minor, communicating threats, cyberstalking and related offenses, announced Andrew Murray, U.S. attorney for the Western District of N.C., on Monday.
The 12-page indictment refers to 10 different victims and identifies them by numbers one through 10. A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office said authorities believe there are more victims.
Cromwell is charged with using cell phone apps, including Snapchat and Kik, and other means to contact and entice juvenile male victims to produce and send to him sexually explicit images and videos of themselves between October 2018 and February. The indictment says these were transported in interstate commerce by computer.
It also says Cromwell misled victims to believe that he was a female, by, among other things, using female names and images to entice them to produce and send to him child pornography.
Cromwell used the following names when he communicated with victims online and on social media: “Savannah,” “princesssav222,” “lickmeup5020,” “Sav,” “frankie5020,” “Lauren,” “Sydney,” “Sarah,” “Lily,” “Kaylee” and “Stephanie,” says the indictment.
The spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office recommended that parents check their children’s phones and social media accounts for these names. The spokeswoman said people who believe they or someone they know may have been a victim in the Cromwell case or have information related to the case should call the Boone Police Department at 828-268-6938.
He is accused of threatening to distribute sexually explicit images or videos of one victim to gain more of the same from the person. He is charged with receiving or attempting to receive child pornography as recently as June 15.
Cromwell “allegedly tried to gain access to children by obtaining employment in places where he could embed himself with underage boys, including a high school, a summer camp, a middle school and a behavioral healthcare facility,” said Murray.
After Cromwell was arrested on the Boone Police Department charges in February, Wilkes School Superintendent Mark Byrd said the Wilkes County Schools employed Cromwell as a wrestling coach at West Wilkes Middle School for the 2018-19 school year. Byrd said Cromwell was hired Oct. 15 to work for the wrestling season, which ended the first week of February.
Byrd also said Daymark Recovery Services employed Cromwell and assigned him to West Wilkes Middle School in the 2018-19 school year. Under a contract with the Wilkes school board, Daymark provides mental health counseling and therapeutic day treatment services for Wilkes elementary and middle school students.
Byrd said Wilkes school administration “cooperates fully with law enforcement in the investigation (and prosecution, if applicable) of any allegations of misconduct against anyone associated with the Wilkes County Schools. Protecting our students is, as always, our number one priority.”
Also after Boone police arrested Cromwell, Daymark Executive Director Billy West said Cromwell “provided supportive counseling, monitoring and supervision, along with other staff, as a team” while working at West Middle. He said Cromwell was never alone with children or staff at West Middle.
“Mr. Cromwell passed all background checks and had positive references and we had no reason to believe there were nor would ever be any concerns,” West added.
West said Cromwell no longer worked for Daymark nor was he in West Middle as of the day company officials learned that he had been arrested by Boone police. He said Daymark official learned of this from authorities a day or two after Cromwell was arrested.
Watauga County Schools spokesman Garrett Price said Cromwell was assigned to Watauga High School through an athletic trainer internship while he was an Appalachian State student in the 2017-18 school year. A press release from the U.S. attorney’s office said he is accused of meeting some of the victims through the internship at Watauga High.
ASU spokeswoman Megan Hayes said in March, “Appalachian stands ready to assist law enforcement and Watauga County Schools with their investigations” of Cromwell.
Cromwell’s Facebook page says he started graduate school at ASU in August 2018 and lists day treatment counselor at Daymark and day camp director at Holston Presbytery (of the Presbyterian Church USA) Camp & Retreat Center in Banner Elk among his activities.
The federal indictment replaced charges filed by Boone police against Cromwell, which were five counts of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor and four counts of second-degree sexual exploitation or a minor. Boone arrest warrants list 2018 offense dates of Sept. 14, 22 or 23, as well as this past Feb. 19.
Four Boone police warrants say Cromwell induced the same 15-year-old male to photograph or videotape himself while he was engaged in sexual activities alone and that Cromwell then solicited and received these images via iMessage. Another Boone warrant says Cromwell induced a 16-year-old male to videotape himself while engaged in a sexual activity alone.
The indictment says Cromwell was in Watauga when he committed the offenses. Seized during a search of his apartment on Old East King Street in Boone were Galaxy cell phone, two iPhones, Surface Pro, various notes, HP ProBook, three T-mobile phones, two rechargeable batteries and a zip drive.
Specific federal charges against Cromwell are nine counts of production of child pornography, which carry a minimum penalty of 15 years and a maximum of 30 years in prison per count; four counts of distribution and receipt/attempted receipt of child pornography, five to 20 years in prison per count; three counts of enticement of a minor, 10 years to life in prison per count; two counts of cyberstalking, five years per count; interstate communication of threats, maximum of two years; advertising of child pornography, 15-30 years; and possession of child pornography, maximum of 10 years. These counts also carry a maximum fine of $250,000 each.
Murray said investigations by ICE Homeland Security Investigations and the Boone Police Department led to the federal charges. Assistant U.S. Attorney Emily Wasserman in Charlotte is in charge of the prosecution.
The state charges resulted from investigations conducted by the Boone Police Department and Watauga County Sheriff's Office, with assistance of the State Bureau of Investigation's Computer Crimes Unit.
Murray stated, “Protecting our children from predators is one of our highest priorities. I urge parents to have a conversation with their children about the dangers of online communications and social media, where predators can use fake names and profiles to weave a heinous web of lies to lure young and innocent children,” said Murray.
He added, “Social media is a great way to stay connected. Unfortunately, it can also turn unsuspecting children into victims of sexual predators. With the beginning of another school year, I urge parents to be vigilant and persistent about monitoring their children's use of social media, and to remind children that anyone can pretend to be someone else on the Internet. I know that these conversations can be difficult, but they can prevent a child from becoming a sexual predator's next victim."
Boone Police Chief Dana Crawford joined Murray in announcing the superseding indictment.