Wahpeton man sentenced for sexually abusing South Carolina girl he persuaded to run away from home

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Dustin James Gilleo, 33, gave a tearful apology before U.S. District Judge Peter Welte handed down the minimum sentence for transportation of a minor. Gilleo faced the possibility of life in prison, but in exchange for a reduced sentence he signed a plea agreement and admitted to transporting the girl from Minnesota into North Dakota so they could engage in sexual activity, according to court documents.

“I can’t express how sorry I am,” Gilleo said. “I am ashamed and disappointed in myself.”

The defense and prosecution agreed the minimum sentence was enough for Gilleo. He also received 15 years of supervised probation and must register as a sex offender

Gilleo was indicted in federal court on April 17. Court documents describe how he and the girl exchanged nude photos and videos and had sexually explicit conversations via text message and other messaging applications.

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Gilleo convinced the girl to run away from South Carolina and fly to the Twin Cities, where he picked her up in early January 2019, brought her to his Wahpeton apartment and had sex with her “countless times,” prosecutor Jennifer Klemetsrud Puhl said.

He gave the girl a deadline to be in North Dakota by Jan. 4, 2019, which she met, Puhl said. Gilleo also directed the girl to use her father’s PayPal account to buy the plane ticket, the prosecutor said.

When they met, Gilleo destroyed the girl’s phone so law enforcement couldn’t track her, Puhl said.

Gilleo and the girl communicated for more than five months before she was reported missing on Jan. 3, 2019, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Police tracked the girl’s location to Minneapolis and found video of her leaving the airport, the release said.

Officers then found the girl at Gilleo’s apartment on Jan. 4, 2019, the release said.

Gilleo and the girl started chatting while playing online games, defense attorney Christopher Lancaster said. The lawyer described how Gilleo was molested as a child and found out the girl also was sexually abused.

They formed a connection, and Gilleo thought he could help her, the defense said. Lancaster said Gilleo was not a calculating perpetrator but instead was shaped by his sexual abuse, the loss of his sister and other struggles in his life.

Puhl said she expected the defense would argue Gilleo was trying to rescue the girl from sexual abuse, noting the teen posted about it online. But Puhl argued that Gilleo wanted to sexually abuse her. While he didn’t force the girl to have sex, he did manipulate her, Puhl said.

“The defendant wanted in on this,” Puhl said.

Judge Welte said he was concerned by Gilleo’s attempt to groom the girl and the planning that went into efforts to bring her to North Dakota, noting the defendant bought the girl medication to prevent her from becoming pregnant, a sex toy and a stuffed animal.

“Is the idea of rescuing a person noble? Maybe,” Welte said, but not if the “rescuer” plans to sexually abuse that person, he added.

Welte said Gilleo took advantage of a vulnerable person, and if there was no video of the girl at the airport, it’s possible the teen would still be with the defendant.

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