SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah's first lady is apologizing for sending a letter seeking leniency for a convicted child pornographer who posed as a teenage girl online to get explicit photos of teenage boys.
Jeanette Herbert has served as honorary chairwoman of a philanthropic group founded by the pornographer's mother, The Salt Lake Tribune reported..
The first lady has not commented, but the governor's office issued a statement saying she was unaware of the policy of not writing such letters. Herbert used official state letterhead for the request.
"The Governor and his Office will occasionally receive requests to provide letters of support to defendants in criminal proceedings. It is Governor's Office policy to deny such requests," the statement says.
"Office policy also prevents officials and staff from using official letterhead for personal correspondence. Those policies had not been adequately explained to Mrs. Herbert at the time she signed the letter. She now understands the policies and as such regrets having provided the letter," it adds.
Herbert wrote the letter on behalf of Ryan Johnson of Spanish Fork, who was sentenced Dec. 13 to 25 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to one count of producing child pornography.
Johnson, 34, admitted that he adopted the online identity of a 16-year-old girl to get 10 boys to send sexually explicit photographs of themselves between July 2009 and January 2011. The victims were between the ages of 12 and 18.
Johnson earlier pleaded no contest to engaging in an illegal sexual relationship with a minor over a period of several months in 2010.
In her letter dated Sept. 23, Herbert acknowledged she understood lawmakers' interest in trying to crack down on pornography with a "somewhat no tolerance approach.
"But the majority of the young people that have struggled with this problem are good kids that have gotten caught up in pornography's addictive snares," she wrote. "We need to make sure that the punishment fits the crime and those decisions are made on a case-by-case basis."
In Johnson's case, she added, "being incarcerated for years will serve no purpose in rehabilitating and will destroy the lives of all involved. There are many programs that help with addiction that would prove more beneficiary (sic) than prison."
U.S. Attorney for Utah David Barlow defended the sentence, saying the case was "particularly egregious" because of Johnson's deception and threats.
"We take our responsibility to protect children in Utah very seriously," he told The Tribune. "The court recognized the serious nature of the conduct in this case and imposed a 25-year sentence."