Nfld. & Labrador

Catfishing children nabs Deer Lake sex offender 8-year sentence

Oral Clarke, a former Tim Hortons franchise owner, pretended to be a teenage boy to lure children in Canada and the United States.

Caution: This story contains details that some may find offensive

Catfishing, using fake profiles or accounts to speak to someone online, is just one of the many dangers online. It allows some abusers to extend their reach beyond national borders. (Cultura RF/Getty Images)

Oral Clarke used to be a successful businessman, running a Tim Hortons in Deer Lake, N.L.

Now he works in the laundry service at Bishop's Falls Correctional Centre, as a convicted serial child sex offender.

Clarke, 67, was sentenced on Wednesday to eight years behind bars for convincing four children between the ages of 11 and 14 to send him nude photos as he pretended to be a teenaged boy on social media.

"Two of these children reside outside of Canada, illustrating the worldwide reach of present-day child sexual offenders," said Judge Wayne Gorman in a written decision. "No child anywhere in the world is safe from offenders like Mr. Clarke."

After pleading guilty, Clarke argued the minimum sentences he was facing — one year each for charges of internet luring and accessing child pornography — were too harsh.

Gorman dismissed Clarke's dispute and imposed a sentence above the mandatory minimums instead.

The victims

This is the fourth time Clarke has been convicted of child sexual offences against girls on the internet. All four stem from the same investigation, headed by the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, for offences committed between 2014 and 2016.

Before the eight-year sentence on Wednesday, Clarke was already serving three consecutive sentences totalling 38 months.

He constitutes a significant danger to children in his community ... (and) on a worldwide basis.- Judge Wayne Gorman

He was using a fake name on Skype and Facebook, speaking to children and amassing a digital stash of child porn.

The most recent sentencing dealt with four victims — two in Canada and two in Ohio.

Clarke sent the children egregious messages, asking for naked photos and, in two cases, requesting they urinate on webcam for him.

The investigation began on Nov. 23, 2015, when police in Newfoundland and Labrador got a complaint about children being lured by a suspected fake account in the name Ammon Charlebois. The process of using a fake account to speak with people online is commonly known as catfishing.

Police tracked the account to Clarke, in St. Jude's — a small community just outside Deer Lake.

Clarke, married for more than 40 years with two children, was the owner of a Tim Hortons. In 2015, the same year police began looking into him, he began leasing his restaurant and went into retirement.

Living a 'fantasy'

According to a pre-sentence report, Clarke said he was dealing with a heart condition and was sitting idled at home when he made a "very stupid decision."

Clarke said he began living out a "fantasy" online, and he "did not think that it would go this far."

The report says Clarke displays "some remorse" for his actions, but notes his crimes displayed a high level of pre-planning and foresight.

After getting caught, Clarke was sent to the jail in Bishop's Falls, a minimum security prison for male offenders. He's been working full time in the laundry facility there and hasn't posed any problems, according to a lieutenant at the centre.

Clarke's longtime friends were shocked to learn of his crimes, the report reads.

Gorman ordered Clarke to serve his sentence consecutively to the other punishments handed down to him, meaning the clock won't start on eight years until he's finished serving the other sentences.

"He constitutes a significant danger to children in his community," Gorman wrote. "Because of the manner in which he utilizes the internet, he constitutes a significant danger to children on a worldwide basis."