Feds Arrest More Than 50 Men in Internet Child Porn Crackdown

Federal authorities yesterday said they arrested more than 50 Southern California men for sharing child pornography over the Internet. The arrests resulted from an eight-month investigation that targeted people who use anonymous peer-to-peer networks to swap illegal images of children. KPCC's Frank Stoltze has more.

Frank Stoltze: U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien said the men authorities arrested ranged from 20 to 70 years old, and came from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Thomas O'Brien: The men who've been charged are married, and single. One is an attorney. One is a police officer. One is a Hollywood film editor. Several are registered sex offenders.

Stoltze: The police officer is a San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Deputy. Most of the men live in Los Angeles County. Salvador Hernandez runs the FBI office in L.A. He described the exchange of child pornography on the Internet as an "epidemic."

Salvador Hernandez: The problem has continued unabated. There seems to be an insatiable appetite for this kind of imagery. And make no mistake, the possession of this imagery ultimately, in many cases, leads to actual contact with children, which is why we're so concerned about it.

Stoltze: Hernandez said that a decade ago, the FBI had 200 open investigations into child pornography. Today, it counts more than 2,500. Robert Schock runs special investigations for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Robert Schock: Twenty years ago, child sex predators had to use the mail. They had to basically go out and search for this, this type of material. Now, basically, with the click of a mouse, thousands of images can be sent not only here in the U.S., but around the world.

Stoltze: Authorities said the men arrested used software programs like LimeWire to join peer-to-peer networks where they'd anonymously share graphic images of children, including infants. Schock said federal authorities recently developed new software to help identify peer-to-peer network users.

Schock (in interview): The special agent that developed this has evened the playing field, and he's really made this much easier for law enforcement to go in and to search for these people who felt that they had some sense of anonymity.

Stoltze: Authorities concede that the arrest of 55 men represents a small fraction of the Internet child pornography problem. U.S. Attorney O'Brien hoped the publicity surrounding the bust would deter potential offenders.

O'Brien: If you engage in the possession or distribution of child pornography, and you believe you have some sort of cloak of invincibility under the Internet by relying on peer-to-peer, that is no longer true.

Stoltze: O'Brien told reporters he believes there's a "special place in Hell for people who exploit children," and that it's his job to "keep them in prison until they get to Hell."

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