An Atwood man was sentenced Feb. 11 to 26 years in federal prison for sexually exploiting teen girls.

Dennis H. West, 44, has been in custody since he was arrested in March 2019.

In September, he pleaded guilty to five counts of sexual exploitation of minors in 2017 and 2018, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Prosecutors said he began grooming the girls while they were in junior high school and paid them to engage in sex acts, prosecutors said.

They also said West paid the girls to send pictures to him of sexually explicit conduct.

He had been arrested in December 2018 on state charges, which were dropped when federal prosecutors took over.

The charges were investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations and the police departments of Atwood, Tuscola, Arthur, and Decatur, in coordination with the Piatt and Douglas County State’s Attorney’s Offices. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Elly M. Peirson.

Project Safe Childhood effort

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse.

For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please log onto www.justice.gov/psc.