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BROWNSVILLE, Texas -- The founder of a Texas cargo airline was sentenced Wednesday to 30 years in prison for federal child pornography charges, after undercover officers posing as young teenage girls said they engaged him in explicit online chats.

Robert L. Hedrick was convicted May 21 of three charges. U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen sentenced Hedrick Wednesday in federal court in Brownsville, Texas.

The 61-year-old founder of Pan American Airways was arrested last year after undercover authorities in Wisconsin and Louisiana traced sexually explicit chat-room exchanges to an online account registered to him. Investigators said they later found 2,400 pornographic images saved on three hard drives in his home.

Hedrick has maintained his innocence.

Prosecutors presented evidence at trial tying Hedrick to the chats with undercover officers posing as 13- and 14-year-old girls. Defense attorneys denied it was Hedrick at the keyboard, trying to use the Internet s thin veil of anonymity to raise doubts among jurors, and claimed he had a long list of enemies with the motivation and money to set him up.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Violet LaTawn Warsaw told jurors that Hedrick s ultimate goal was to convince teenage girls to send him nude photographs. To that end, he searched for them in Internet chat rooms, began conversations that quickly turned sexually explicit and sent them pornography.

Defense attorney Ed Stapleton said Hedrick declined to plead guilty as a matter of principle.

If he had pleaded guilty, because of his age, he would have died in prison, Stapleton said. At least this way he ll have an appeal.

Pan American Airways, a freight carrier, opened its operations in a building that once belonged to the former passenger airline Pan American World Airways, also known as Pan Am. Pan Am collapsed in 1991.

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