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Hastings couple charged in child pornography case

A Hastings couple has been charged with multiple crimes associated with the abuse, endangerment and neglect of a 4-year-old female child. The charges were filed last week after the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) contacted Hastings police about an ongoing Internet investigation involving suspected production of pornographic works involving minor children.

Mark Matthew Cortes, 24, has been charged with criminal sexual conduct in the first degree, use of a minor in a sexual performance for pornographic work and possession of pornographic work involving minors. All are felonies. Amanda Lee Hughes, also 24, has been charged with possession of pornographic work involving minors, neglect of a child, and endangerment of a child, all felonies; and endangerment of a child and neglect of a child, gross misdemeanors.

According to the criminal complaints filed Oct. 27, the evidence obtained by the FBI indicated that that someone at Cortes' address was using email to send images containing child pornography to an email account in another country. Further, the e-mails written by Cortes suggested that Cortes was sexually abusing the female child and taking photographs of the acts. It was determined that Cortes lives with Hughes at an apartment in Hastings.

On Oct. 24, Hastings police went to the home of Cortes and Hughes. They had a search warrant with them. Initially, Hughes denied knowing anything about the investigation. At one point she indicated that the child admitted to her that Cortes "had done some things to her." Hughes eventually said that Cortes was performing sexual acts on the child.

Hughes also admitted seeing the pornographic images on the computer. She said that Cortes put them on the computer, but denied using the child in pornography.

The child told police that Cortes had harmed her and that the incidents occurred when Hughes was at school.

In an interview with police, Cortes admitted to committing the acts with the child, taking the images and then sending them to other individuals. The images were taken in November 2011.

Both Cortes and Hughes were arrested. They made their first court appearance Oct. 27. Bail was set at $250,000 for Cortes and $15,000 for Hughes. Their next court appearance is set for 9 a.m. Nov. 20.

Cortes remains housed in the Dakota County Jail and Hughes is being housed in the Ramsey County Jail (no females are housed in Dakota County Jail).

Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said that child protection proceedings have begun to protect the child involved in the case. She is currently in the custody of Dakota County Child Protection.