By Shereen Siewert

WAUSAU — A 51-year-old Wausau man arrested during a nationwide child predator sting was convicted Friday of 15 counts of possessing child pornography, just days before his trial was set to begin.

Richard Pijan has been jailed on a $50,000 cash bond since his May 2016 arrest as part of Operation New Hope, which was part of a larger sting called Operation Broken Heart.

The sting targeted offenders who possess, manufacture and distribute child pornography; use the internet to entice children into sex; or engage in child prostitution or child sex tourism. Law enforcement officials said these types of arrests underscore the importance of families maintaining an open dialogue about Internet safety. Children and teens are spending more time on the Internet and social media sites, where child predators often look for victims.

Pijan, who has a prior 1992 conviction for sexually assaulting a child, faced 49 counts, 34 of which were dismissed as part of a last-minute plea deal. A jury trial was set to begin on Tuesday. Court records show Pijan served seven years in prison on the assault charge and was a registered sex offender.

Special agents from the Department of Corrections on May 4, 2016 searched Pijan’s Wausau home, seizing a computer and hard drive on which they found thousands of photos of and videos of children being sexually assaulted. Pijan admitted he watched pornography he downloaded onto his computer, including “pre-teen hard-core,” or “kids depicted nude or in a sexual nature,” according to the criminal complaint.

Marathon County Circuit Judge Greg Huber ordered a presentencing investigation be completed before sentencing Pijan. A sentencing date has not yet been set.