A Florida resident will be prosecuted in U.S. District Court in Erie in a case that started with his arrest in West Virginia on charges he kidnapped a 14-year-old mentally disabled girl from Erie County on Aug. 9 after he contacted her online and exchanged sexually explicit messages with her.
A federal grand jury has indicted the defendant, Thomas E. Grossman III, on two felony counts — interstate travel with intent to engage in any illicit sexual conduct and interstate transportation of a minor with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct.
If convicted, Grossman, 47, of Tampa, faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life, according to court records.
The federal indictment was returned on Tuesday. The case originated with the Pennsylvania State Police charging Grossman on Aug. 10. Those charges included felony counts of kidnapping, interference with the custody of children and concealing the whereabouts of a child.
The federal government on Aug. 11 signaled it was taking over the case against Grossman when the FBI filed a criminal complaint against him. The indictment covers the same charges that the FBI filed.
Initial charges:FL man charged with kidnapping 14-year-old girl from southern Erie County; arrested in WV
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Erie typically charges defendants through indictments rather than criminal complaints, though the FBI often uses criminal complaints to file charges swiftly and before a grand jury is able to meet.
Federal charges typically carry more severe penalties than state charges.
Grossman was initially jailed in West Virginia and is now at the Erie County Prison, according to court records filed with the indictment. His initial appearance in federal court in Erie is scheduled for Sept. 7 via a videoconference before U.S. Magistrate Richard A. Lanzillo, according to a docket entry made on Wednesday.
Federal case:Feds take case of FL man charged with kidnapping mentally disabled Erie County girl, 14
Details of the accusations
Grossman is accused of driving from Florida to Erie County and picking up the 14-year-old girl at her home in Amity Township, near Wattsburg, on Aug. 9. The girl “has an intellectual disorder and has the mental capacity of an 8-to-10-year-old child,” the FBI and state police said in their criminal complaints. The FBI in its complaint said Grossman has a suspended law license in the state of Indiana.
Police said the girl told investigators she had met Grossman online two to three months before he drove to her house. She told police she talked to him two to three times a week and that the two exchanged nude photos of themselves, according to the state police’s criminal complaint. The girl said Grossman told her he was 16 or 19 years old, the FBI said.
The girl told investigators the two went to a hotel in Erie, where Grossman attempted to cuddle with her, but she said “no,” according to the criminal complaints.
Grossman and the girl then left Erie County heading south before law enforcement in West Virginia, alerted by the Pennsylvania State Police, found Grossman’s Chevrolet Equinox in the parking lot of a Walgreens in Summersville, West Virginia, and arrested Grossman, police said.
The girl was returned to her family.
Investigators used cell phone records to track Grossman. By pinging his number, police found that he was traveling south through Pennsylvania and into West Virginia, according to the criminal complaints.
Summersville is off Route 19, a north-south highway in central West Virginia. It connects Interstates 79 and 64, which leads to Interstate 77.
Contact Ed Palattella at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ETNpalattella.