Law enforcement agents in the United States have arrested 190 people in a cross-border investigation into child pornography. A taskforce of Immigration and Customs Enforcement – ICE – Homeland Security Investigations – HSI – agents under the banner Operation Orian have arrested nearly 200 alleged child pornographers and rescued 18 minors during a month long investigation.
While the investigation identified only 18 minors, investigators said the number of victims could actually be in the hundreds and stressed the need for parents to be vigilant. ICE director John Morton, who headed up the taskforce said many of the cases started with a child or teenager “chatting with someone he or she met online,”
Operation Orion focused on the possession, distribution and production of pornographic images of children, leading to arrests across the United States as well as in Spain, Argentina, Britain and the Philippines ::::
Eight men were arrested in Los Angeles, including one who met his 12-year-old victim on Facebook. He was charged with enticing a minor to commit lewd acts after agents pretended to be the girl online and then arranged to meet him in a shopping mall.
Operation Orion took place May 1 to 31. Arrests were made by HSI special agents and partner law enforcement agencies. The majority of arrests were made throughout the United States, but also included arrests in Spain, the Philippines, Argentina and the United Kingdom.
Those arrested included:
Andrew Hallock, 28, of Sebastian, Fla., arrested May 2 in Sebastian for possession of child pornography and illegal sexual enticement of a 15-year-old victim he met online. Cedric Conner, 35, of Lafayette, La., arrested May 4 in Lafayette for production of child pornography based on his sexual assault of a 7-year-old victim, whom Conner babysat. Joshua Stewart, 23, of Rochester, N.Y., arrested in Rochester May 4 for coercion and enticement of a minor via the Internet, which began as “sexting” with the 13-year-old. Andrew McKee, 35, of Oklahoma City, Okla., arrested in Garland, Texas, May 9 for coercion and enticement of a minor via the Internet. McKee met the 14-year-old victim on a social networking site and continued to harass the victim via texts, offering money in exchange for sex. Thomas Wright, 54, of Bangor, Mich., arrested May 16 at his residence in Bangor on an outstanding federal arrest warrant for manufacturing and possessing child pornography. Wright allegedly persuaded an underage boy to participate with him in illegal sexual conduct while he photographed the encounters. Wright also secretly videotaped the boy involved in other sexual activity. Wright later transported the images from his home in Michigan to Florida. Michael Wojcik, 28, of Warren, Mich., arrested May 18. Wojcik turned himself in to HSI Detroit after being charged in a criminal complaint for receipt and possession of child pornography. A search warrant executed at his home revealed more than 1,200 images and 109 videos of suspected child pornography on computers and media storage devices.
Operation Orion was overseen by HSI’s Child Exploitation Investigations Unit in Washington.
Last year, HSI initiated more than 3,000 cases into child exploitation and made 1,455 arrests. In that same year, the HSI Computer Forensics Program examined the equivalent of 16.5 million filing cabinets of data related to child exploitation cases.
John Morton said many of the investigations began with children chatting with someone they met online. Mr Morton said the arrests are a good opportunity to discuss the dangers of online predators with children.
“Let this operation be a warning to anyone who would think they can use the internet to exploit children,” Morton said in a statement. ”We are out there looking for you, we will find you, and you will be prosecuted.”
The Child Exploitation Investigations Unit investigates the trans-border, large-scale production and distribution of images of child abuse, as well as individuals who travel abroad to engage in sex with minors. The unit employs the latest technology to collect evidence and track the activities of individuals and organized groups who sexually exploit children through the use of websites, chat rooms, newsgroups and peer-to-peer trading. These investigative activities are organized under Operation Predator, a program managed by the Child Exploitation Investigations Unit.
In a separate operation announced by prosecutors in Indiana, nine people were prosecuted following the dismantling of an international child pornography ring which pursued suspects in Sweden, Serbia and the Netherlands, as well as the US.
“Defendants have been referred to federal prosecutors and law enforcement in other districts across the country and around the world,” said Joseph Hogsett, the US attorney for the southern state of Indiana.
“This operation uncovered a dangerous and depraved group of criminals who were devoted to trading sexually explicit images of children under the age of five,” added assistant attorney-general Lanny Breuer.
Special Agent in charge in San Diego, Lorraine Concha said one case involved a child being videotaped with a hidden camera in her own home. She did not provide other details because the case was still under investigation. But she said that most child predators “will share their treasures – they consider these treasures – with other predators over the Internet. That’s the typical case.”
An ICE spokeswoman said that the agency in recent years had been making about 1,000 arrests annually of suspected child predators.
ICE also has some pretty neat resources for parents: www.ice.gov/cyber-crimes/resources