Lethbridge man to be sentenced in May on sexual assault/child pornography charges

LETHBRIDGE — The Crown says 39-year old Gary Lippa, who engaged in sexualized online chats and had sex with an underage girl, knew what he was doing was wrong, but continued anyway.

Lippa pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges of sexual assault, child luring and making, printing and publishing child pornography. The Crown and defence presented an agreed statement of facts Thursday, outlining details of the offences.

Court was told the victim was 13 when family members became aware that she was engaging in inappropriate communications on her cell phone.

“It’s a warning to parents to keep vigilant,” says Carolyn Ayre, a member of the technology and internet crime unit, of the Alberta Crown’s Specialized Prosecutions Division.

Ayre was co-counsel for the prosecution, along with Lisa Weich of the Lethbridge Crown Prosecutor’s office. “This case was spearheaded by a vigilant parent, who saw some inappropriate messages on her daughter’s phone,” she said.

A cellphone seized by police contained naked images of the girl and explicit text messages.

The case was eventually turned over to Alert’s Internet Child Exploitation Unit (ICE) and in February of 2018 officers searched Lippa’s home in Lethbridge, where they seized numerous electronic devices.

On one device, investigators found 147 images, including 69 of the victim, or the victim and the accused together. It also contained movies of them together.

Another device contained 148 images of the victim, including 10 that the Crown said can be considered child pornography.

Lethbridge, child abuse, child assaulted, sexual

Admitted to offences

According to the agreed statement of facts, Lippa had given the girl a cell phone so she could stay in touch with him, and had coached her on how to hide their communications.

The Crown says following the search of his home, Lippa provided a statement to police, admitting to the offences.

Lippa told investigators he engaged in sexual chat, because “he was helping her with her confidence.” Court was told Lippa initially denied that he had met the girl, but later admitted to meeting her and having sex with her.

The Crown says Lippa mentioned in some of his text messages, that “he knew what he was doing was wrong”, yet continued anyway.

The case was originally scheduled to be heard by judge and jury this week.  A jury was selected Tuesday, but on Wednesday Lippa unexpectedly changed his election to trial by judge alone. He then entered guilty pleas to charges of making, printing and publishing child pornography, luring a child under the age of 16 for sexual purposes, and sexual assault.

Ayre says the sudden turn of events means the girl won’t have to relive the events and speak about what happened, “It saved our young complainant from having to testify, so in that regard the crown is quite thankful that there was a guilty plea,” she said.

Justice C. Scott Brooker has ordered a forensic risk assessment be conducted, along with a pre-sentence report, by May 1 at the latest.

Those reports will provide background, personal and psychological information about Lippa, to help determine a fit sentence.

The matter returns to court March 23, to set a date for sentencing.  Justice Brooker suggested the Crown and defence set aside some time during the week of May 19th.

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