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Month-long ICE crackdown nets 190 child porn suspects; 18 victims rescued

ICE

A search warrant for a child pornography case.

Federal agents targeting child pornography offenses say they arrested 190 people in May and rescued 18 children who were being victimized by the accused perpetrators, in a stepped-up focus on these crimes.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, which investigates a wide range of crimes that cross state or national borders, is one of the main federal agencies — along with the FBI — to handle child porn and exploitation investigations. That includes tracking perpetrators who use the Internet to lure or meet child victims, to persuade them to send nude pictures to produce porn or to receive or distribute child pornography.

The targeted operation coincides with the end of the school year, said ICE spokesman Dani Bennett.


"From our perspective the summer months are times when kids are not in school and many have unsupervised access to the Internet," said Bennett. "It’s a good time to remind parents that the person they are chatting with may not be the person they are chatting with. ... Every social network, every wonderful tool the Internet provides can be exploited."

Among the arrests reported by ICE:

  • Joshua Stewart, 23, arrested in Rochester, N.Y., on May 4 on charges of coercing and enticing a minor via the Internet, which allegedly began as "sexting" with the 13-year-old.
  • Thomas Wright, 54, arrested May 16 at his residence in Bangor, Mich., on an outstanding federal arrest warrant accusing him of 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, according to ICE. Wright allegedly transported the images from his home in Michigan to Florida.
  • Cedric Conner, 35, of Lafayette, La., arrested May 4 in Lafayette for allegedly producing child pornography based on his sexual assault of a 7-year-old victim whom he babysat.

Nine of the suspected child predators were arrested in the San Diego area, including a 28-year-old Marine Corps helicopter pilot who is accused of possessing 4,000 images and 43 video files of child pornography, some depicting child bestiality and child bondage, according to a report by NBC San Diego. NBC identified him as Capt. Joshua Taylor, who was stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

The arrests made during the month-long Operation Orion were mainly in the United States, but also included arrests in Spain, the Philippines, Argentina and the United Kingdom.

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The 190 arrests in May represented a  “significant number” for one month, Bennett said. ICE arrested 1,455 suspected child predators in the 2011 fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30, 2011, she said, up from 922 a year earlier.

Typically, she said, ICE is responsible for more than half of the federal cases involving child sexual exploitation.

In 2011, Bennett said, agency investigations resulted in 915 convictions on child porn-related charges with sentences ranging from a few years to life in prison, depending on the severity of the offense and the age of the victim — who are sometimes as young as infants.

As part of the operation, ICE worked with local authorities and child protection agencies to move child victims to safety, including removing them from exploitative parents.

"We are getting better at it," said Bennett. "This is one of the most important things we do."

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