PORTLAND, Ore. - A convicted sex offender has been sentenced to 15 years in federal prison and lifetime supervised release in the sexual abuse of several children on the Warm Springs and Yakama Indian reservations, prosecutors said Tuesday.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mosman in Portland imposed sentence Monday on Ernest Colin Selam, 59, who pleaded guilty June 29 to charges related to the sexual molestation of minor relatives.
“This case demonstrates the ongoing need for compassionate and persistent investigation of child abuse in Indian Country,” said Billy J. Williams, United States Attorney for the District of Oregon. “We will continue to work tirelessly with our tribal partners to give voice to these vulnerable victims and provide justice for tribal nations.”
According to court documents, FBI agents in Washington state, along with Yakama Nation Tribal detectives, arrested Selam on September 15, 2016 in Yakima, Washington after a multi-jurisdictional investigation revealed a long history of sexual abuse against minor children on the Warm Springs and Yakama Nation Indian reservations.
The investigation, undertaken jointly by tribal investigators and federal agents from the FBI’s Resident Agency in Bend, uncovered the sexual abuse of three minor Native American female victims.
Abuse allegations first became known in 2003, when one victim disclosed to a school that Selam had molested her years prior on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, prosecutors said.
The investigation stalled until April 2016, when a child in Yakima disclosed that the defendant had been molesting her. Investigators contacted the Warm Springs victim, by then an adult, who again recounted the instances of abuse that had occurred two decades earlier. Investigators later learned that Selam had also sexually abused a second victim in Warm Springs when she was a child.
Selam was indicted in federal court for the crimes committed against the now-adult victims in Oregon, and agreed to plead guilty to spare the minor child in Washington state from having to go to court.
At the time of his arrest, Selam was a registered sex offender for a previous conviction in the Warm Springs Tribal Court for sexually abusing two relatives in the early 1990s.
The investigation was led by the FBI’s Yakima Resident Agency in the Eastern District of Washington with tribal detectives from the Yakama Nation and Warm Springs Tribal Police who are certified federal task force officers through the FBI’s Safe Trails Task Force Program.
Also assisting in the investigation were agents from the FBI’s Resident Agency in Bend. The case was prosecuted by Paul T. Maloney, Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Oregon.
On March 3, 1994, the FBI initiated “Operation Safe Trails” with the Navajo Department of Law Enforcement in Flagstaff, Arizona. The purpose of the operation, which would later evolve into the Safe Trails Task Force (STTF) Program, was to unite the FBI with other federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies in a collaborative effort to combat the growth of crime in Indian Country.
STTFs allow participating agencies to combine limited resources and increase investigative coordination in Indian Country to target violent crime, drugs, gangs, and gaming violations.