Feds: Child porn suspects come from all walks of life
New York • Seemingly respectable members of the mainstream a police officer, a paramedic, a rabbi, an airline pilot, an architect, a Boy Scout leader were caught using the Internet to collect and trade child pornography, federal officials said Wednesday.
The six were among 70 New York City-area men and one woman charged as the result of a five-week investigation by the Homeland Security Investigations arm of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Some of the defendants, using search terms like "real child rape" and "family sex," had downloaded thousands of disturbing images on their computers inside suburban homes they shared with their families. The lone woman was accused of allowing another suspect to videotape her son.
Federal and state officials who announced the arrests on Wednesday called it one of the largest local roundups ever of people who seek to anonymously share the porn online and a stark reminder that they come from all walks of life.
"This operation puts the lie to the classic, stereotypical profile that child predators are nothing more than unemployed drifters," said James Hayes, head of ICE's New York office.
Authorities say an alarming number of the defendants held positions of trust that gave them access to young children. The Boy Scout leader also coached a youth baseball team. The rabbi home-schooled his children and others. Another person used hidden cameras to secretly film his children's friends.
The operation was meant to send a message to producers and consumers of child porn "that they are going to be identified, that they are going to be found," Hayes said. "Those people need to look themselves in the mirror and do whatever they need to do to stop this activity."
Authorities say advances in technology and computer capacity have allowed child-porn collectors to easily amass vast troves of images and to exchange files with each other directly. The New York effort resulted in the seizure of nearly 600 desktop and laptop computers, tablets, smartphones and other devices containing massive amounts of storage.
Agents were still examining the devices to locate and catalog evidence, an arduous task that could result in more arrests. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children also will have analysts review the images to see whether it can identify children using databases of known victims.
"We refer to each of these images as a crime scene photo because that's exactly what they are," said John Ryan, the organization's chief executive officer.
Authorities decided to launch the operation after the arrest in January of the Mount Pleasant, New York, police chief, who pleaded not guilty this week to federal charges of knowingly receiving and distributing child pornography. Court papers allege that Brian Fanelli told investigators he began looking at child porn as research before it grew into a "personal interest."
In May, agents on computers created a digital dragnet with the same tactics used in the Fanelli case: Agents posed as collectors of child porn who wanted to anonymously trade it through file-sharing programs others use to share pirated hit music and movies. Once given access to personal libraries of child porn photos and videos, the agents identified the numeric IP addresses of the sources of the material.
The next step as was to subpoena Internet service providers to obtain names associated with the IP addresses. The investigators narrowed the list down to 100 people who were the most active and recent traders, and obtained search and arrest warrants.
Follow Hays on Twitter: https://twitter.com/APtomhays