A former North Texas banker named a person of interest in the 2015 disappearance of a local 18-year-old was sentenced Wednesday to 30 years in federal prison for preying on the boy when he was a juvenile, a federal prosecutor said.
U.S. District Judge Reed C. O’Connor sentenced 59-year-old Ricky Dale Howard of Nocona to prison on a charge of sexual exploitation of a child.
Howard had pleaded guilty to the charge in July.
“The vast majority of sexually exploited children were victimized by an adult they know and trust — and the young man in this case was no different. While we may never know what happened to him in the moments before his disappearance, we know he spent many months enduring the unthinkable,” said Texas Northern District Acting U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham in a Wednesday news release. “We continue to pray that one day, he will be found. In the meantime, we hope today’s sentence brings a measure of solace to the family and friends who loved him. We are proud to put this sexual predator behind bars.”
The Nocona man entered the plea just hours after a judge in Fort Worth declared a mistrial because of a medical issue with a juror in July. Nocona is about 90 miles northwest of Fort Worth.
According to evidence presented before the mistrial, authorities had seized several of Howard’s computers during an investigation into the disappearance of the high school senior, who was reported missing April 1, 2015, just two weeks after his 18th birthday.
On the computers, investigators found sexually explicit images that appeared to show Howard sexually abusing the missing boy.
Howard admitted that he enticed the teen into engaging in sexually explicit conduct to create visual depictions, according to federal authorities.
“We will continue to work with our partners to seek justice for this victim’s family and do all that we can to ensure that vulnerable members of our community are protected from those who seek to do them harm,” said FBI Dallas Special Agent in Charge Matthew J. DeSarno in the news release. “The defendant will be held accountable for his reprehensible conduct, and we will remain committed to investigating anyone who seeks to exploit children.”
In the trial, the teen’s mother testified that she and her children had been close with the Howard family since the boys were young, saying her son had been working for Howard since middle school.
Authorities testified that after the teen disappeared, Howard told police the last time he’d seen him was the weekend before he went missing, when they attempted to repair his truck. Several days into the investigation, an officer observed a burn pit with several incinerated computers on Howard’s property.
In 2017, the mother of the missing teen discovered a small tape recorder hidden in the back of a bathroom cabinet which contained audio of Howard asking himself polygraph questions related to his sexual interest in young boys.
Shortly after that, investigators re-examined the missing person case, and asked Howard’s ex-wife and daughter for the incinerated computers, which were examined by the FBI”s North Texas Regional Computer Forensic Lab. The mother of the missing teen, Howard’s sons and his his ex-wife all identified the missing teen in redacted versions of the photographs extracted from the computers.
The federal trial was held following Howard’s release from state prison after serving a five-year sentence on 11 counts of unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, according to KFDX-TV in Wichita Falls.
Howard also had been convicted of federal bank fraud about 10 years earlier.
The gun sentence came a year after he was charged with four counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child in two separate cases after two men came forward and said they had been assaulted multiple times in the ’90s while working for Howard. One was 12 years old and the other 13 years old at the time, according to KFDX-TV.
“My family is broken, I know we will never have a gathering where there isn’t a sense of wrongness and of a huge, important part being missing,” the mother of the teen testified at Howard’s sentencing hearing on Wednesday “It has now been almost seven years since [my son] disappeared. Years of searching, waiting, and praying for answers to get to this day – and still to not truly have the answer our hearts require. But I am so thankful to the investigators and prosecutors for not giving up and at least making sure that Ricky Howard can hurt no one else.”