A University of Wyoming assistant professor of mechanical engineering has been charged with possession of child pornography, according to federal court records.

Jian Cai, faces up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines if convicted of the charges.

According to a criminal complaint filed by Wyoming Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Forwood in U.S. District Court on Tuesday, Cai possessed digital images on an external hard drive depicting prepubescent minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

A special agent with the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigations began investigating Cai on Feb.14 in connection to a child pornography sharing on a peer-to-peer, or P2P, file-sharing network.

Federal court records say the agent identified  the Internet Protocol, or IP address of a particular computer as a potential download source for several files. The agent was able to connect and download a file of child pornography from a computer using that IP address.

A domain name system check on the IP address was conducted and revealed that the IP address was registered to Charter Communications. A federal summons for Internet Service Provider subscriber information from Charter Communications was obtained.

On March 8th, the results from the summons were returned and determined that the computer with the IP address in questions belonged to Jian Cai, court documents state.

On March 18th, the agent was able to connect to Cai’s computer and download a file of child pornography containing 36 images of child pornography picturing two female children, according to the complaint.  The agent then submitted the 37 images from the two separate downloads to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for analysis to determine if the images were of known child victims. Thirty-five of the 37 images were determined to picture a child previously identified by law enforcement.

The agent obtained a search warrant for the residence where the computer was located and on March 22, around 2:30 p.m. the Laramie Police Department executed the search warrant.

According to the complaint, Cai was interviewed and admitted to searching for child pornography on his laptop computer and using P2P software on the internet. Cai said there were several hundred files on an external hard drive in his possession and he used his laptops with the P2P software on them to download child pornography.

Cai also confirmed that he was an assistant professor at the University of Wyoming and he used his personal laptops to connect to the internet via the UW network, federal documents state.

The criminal compliant states that analysis of the hard drives seized from Cai’s residence turned up about 1,000 image and video files on the hard drive. One video picturing a female child had been observed in other investigations and was a known victim series identified through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, according to court documents.

UW Director of Institutional Communications Chad Baldwin said the university's statement on the matter was as such:

The University of Wyoming is aware of the charges against Jian Cai and is taking appropriate personnel actions. The university condemns the possession of child pornography and similar criminal offenses and is cooperating fully with law enforcement authorities in this investigation.

A motion for a detention hearing was filed in U.S. District Court Tuesday, Aril 4th. The detention hearing will be held within the week.  As of April 5th, Cai was still listed on the staff webpage of the UW mechanical and energy systems engineering department.

Tom Morton assisted in reporting this story.