CHAPEL HILL — The UNC-Chapel Hill Police Department and the FBI are investigating a Pittsboro couple for possible sex crimes, including sex with minors and possession and manufacture of child pornography, according to warrants.
Charles Hitlin, 42, was the head of information technology for the university’s Gillings School of Public Health until Nov. 12, following a Nov. 8 arrest on a charge of felony gun possession. Campus police and agents from the FBI Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force found a loaded 9 mm handgun in his campus office, according to a search warrant.
Hitlin’s wife Amy, 44, is a senior assistant director of career services with an office at the school. Neither she nor her husband has been charged with any sex offenses stemming from the investigation. Efforts to reach a university spokeswoman to determine her job status Monday were unsuccessful.
In search warrants, Sgt. Beatus Swai of the UNC Police Department said the multi-agency investigation began after Mike Deaton, a detective of the Morrisville Police Department and member of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, chatted with someone using a UNC-CH IP address in an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel known to be used to share child pornography. Police traced the messages to a Media Access Control address – a unique identifier – registered to Charles Hitlin in Rosenau Hall at the School of Public Health.
Between Oct. 24 and Nov. 5, Deaton chatted with a person with the username “amyinnc” on IRC, according to warrants. “Amyinnc” appeared to be female, and said she liked to have sex with 10 or more individuals at once, including neighbors, co-workers and children, the warrants said. In further chats, “amyinnc” told Deaton she lives in Pittsboro by Jordan Lake and works at UNC-CH as a graduate student counselor, and that her husband is an IT manager. Swai traced the IP address to a switch in Rosenau Hall through which multiple computers connect to the Internet. Investigators found the computer used for the chats was registered to Charles Hitlin.
The Hitlins’ attorney, Meredith Nicholson of Durham, emailed a statement that said the Hitlins are confident the investigation will find no illegal material.
“Mr. Hitlin is not a predator, not a pedophile, and not a pornographer,” the Hitlins said in the statement. “He is not a danger to his community. He is a good and decent man who has found himself subject to the far-reaching arm of a government which persists in spying on the web communications of its citizens.”
In his application for the search warrant, Swai said he believed there was probable cause that investigators would find digital images, videos or names and addresses of children involved in child pornography on computer equipment in the office.
When investigators entered Charles Hitlin’s office, he had several Internet chat windows open. Investigators seized an iPhone, an iPad, an iMac, two Macbook Air laptops and a Macbook Pro laptop, a Palm Treo phone, a PDA, CDs and a hard drive, all of which Swai said he believed might contain child pornography or Internet chats related to child pornography, according to warrants.
UNC-CH Department of Public Safety spokesman Randy Young said he believes the computers seized are university property. Investigators also seized the handgun, for which they arrested Hitlin on the felony charge of possessing a firearm on educational property. They also found 21 rounds of 9mm ammunition, a Gerber knife and an “unknown fighting device.”
Police also searched Amy Hitlin’s two offices on campus, as well as the Hitlins’ Jeep, but seized no items from those searches.