James McCartney. (Photo courtesy of the Highland County Justice Center)
James McCartney. (Photo courtesy of the Highland County Justice Center)
A Hillsboro man was sentenced to prison Thursday afternoon after pleading guilty to trafficking in persons, as well as pandering obscenity involving a minor.

As previously reported, a 15-count indictment was handed down against James Hugh McCartney, 61, on April 6.

McCartney pleaded guilty to the first five counts of the indictment — the aforementioned trafficking in persons count, a felony of the first degree, and four charges of pandering obscenity, all fourth-degree felonies — during a hearing in Highland County Common Pleas Court June 17. The other 11 counts were dismissed.

Highland County Common Pleas Court Judge Rocky Coss followed the recommendation in the plea agreement, sentencing McCartney to a minimum of 13 years in prison, including 11 years for trafficking in persons and six months for each pandering obscenity charge. McCartney is also classified as a Tier III sex offender, requiring registration every 90 days for life.

A complaint was originally filed in Hillsboro Municipal Court March 1, charging McCartney with trafficking in persons after he allegedly asked someone to find him a female individual “as young as you can.”

That affidavit said deputies of the Highland County Sheriff’s Office received a report from two individuals who alleged that they had received “messages from [McCartney] indicating what he does to children” and providing copies of the alleged messages, which were sexually explicit.

The indictment handed down by a grand jury in April alleged that on or about Feb. 26, McCartney “did knowingly recruit, lure, entice, isolate, harbor, transport, provide, obtain or maintain,” or attempt to do so, a “person … less than 16 years of age.”

“Either the offender knows that the other person will be subjected to involuntary servitude or the offender’s knowing recruitment, luring, enticement, isolation, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining or maintenance of the other person or knowing attempt to [the same allegations] … is for the purpose to engage in sexual activity for hire,” the indictment alleged.

For the same Feb. 26 date, McCartney was accused of “knowingly buying, procuring, possessing or controlling any obscene material … that has a minor as one of its participants.”

McCartney has prior convictions of various offenses involving minors, as mentioned by Highland County Prosecutor Anneka Collins in her comments to the judge.

“We would note the defendant has a prior criminal history,” Collins said to Coss. “Your Honor, it’s the state’s position that the defendant should be sentenced to prison for a more substantial period of time as outlined in our plea agreement.”

Collins noted that McCartney had been charged in Clinton County in an over 500-count indictment in the early 2000s. According to court records, McCartney was initially indicted on 533 counts related to pandering sexually oriented matter involving a minor in 2002, then later pleaded no contest to 20 lowered counts.

Collins said that McCartney had also been convicted of “lewd and lascivious conduct with a child under 14” in California.

McCartney’s attorney, J.D. Wagoner, asked Coss to follow the recommended plea agreement.

When given the opportunity to address the judge before sentencing, McCartney pointed out that his “alleged crimes” occurred in the 1990s and 2000s.

“Please look at my record,” McCartney told the judge. “Considering the fact this is 2021, you see that I have been pretty much a model citizen for quite a few years. I haven’t had a record to speak of.”

McCartney added that he had people who “would like to see me have another chance to continue to do well” and also asked for leniency due to his “terminal” illness. “I need to be in a hospital situation,” he said.

Coss responded that it was explained to McCartney the first-degree felony charge carries a “mandatory prison term, and I don’t have any discretion over whether you serve time or not.”

“The court feels that’s an appropriate sentence given your past record and the nature of these offenses,” Coss said.

After the hearing, Collins told The Highland County Press that “a good Samaritan” was responsible for reporting the trafficking in persons incident before a child could be harmed. She praised the individual for her quick thinking.

"This case was solved before a child was hurt thanks to a good Samaritan in the county who went straight to the sheriff's office when she saw something suspicious,” Collins said. “It was the vigilance of a county resident that helped stop this man before he got started. Anyone can truly make a difference.”