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Polk sheriff: Gibsonton man sent child porn to Bay News 9 anchor

A 20-year-old Gibsonton man was indicted on federal charges after authorities said he repeatedly sent child pornography to a news anchor for Bay News 9.

Marchaun Browning faces three counts of distribution of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography. He was indicted by a federal grand jury on Aug. 16 and arrested two days later.

Polk Sheriff Grady Judd announced the arrest Tuesday and said investigators believe there are other victims out there. Judd asked them to come forward and contact the Sheriff's Office.

The investigation was started by the Polk County Sheriff's Office, which then contacted the FBI. Authorities did not identify the Bay News 9 anchor due to the nature of the allegations.

"The reporter is scarred for life," Judd said. "The images were absolutely horrific."

The children in the images were as young as 3, Judd said, and when investigators searched Browning's electronic devices they found a total of 163 images. Browning first used a Twitter account under the name @Mecca15675165 to follow the Bay News 9 anchor and used it to send her the explicit images, investigators said. After the anchor blocked that account, authorities said Browning created more and continued sending her the images, and even sent some to Bay News 9's main Twitter account.

A spokeswoman for Charter Communications Inc., the parent company of Bay News 9, declined to comment Tuesday.

Judd said the investigation started when the anchor's husband reached out to his agency because he "knew of our aggressive stance on going after child predators and child pornographers."

A sheriff's spokeswoman said the agency had jurisdiction because it's the coordinating agency of the Central Florida Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Investigators obtained subpoenas to identify the IP addresses of Browning's four Twitter accounts, the sheriff said, which led them to his Gibsonton home in Hillsborough County.

Browning faces similar charges in Virginia, Judd said. Browning was booked into a local jail but freed after posting $20,000 bail. Authorities did not say what jail he was booked into or when he was freed.

If Browning sent pornographic images to anyone else, the sheriff said he hopes those people will come forward and help the investigation.

"We think there are very possibly more victims in the community," Judd said.

Anyone with information about this case is asked to contact the Polk County Sheriff's Office at 1-800-226-0344 or email tips@polksheriff.org. They can also call Heartland Crime Stoppers at 1-800-226-8477.

Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.

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