U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have made one of the biggest seizures of child pornography on record. Nine people from the Inland Empire were arrested Friday in connection with the probe.
Michael Peterson, a 58-year-old Ontario pipefitter, was among the suspects arrested in a raid that stretched from the high desert to the Coachella Valley.
Peterson has been charged with possessing, receiving and distributing porn involving sex with minors. A forensic analysis of several hard drives and a laptop from his home uncovered more than 7,000 videos and 500,000 stills of suspected child pornography.
The collection is believed to be one of the largest ever found.
Peterson came to the attention of authorities during an undercover sting targeting a peer-to-peer file sharing network.
The same network led authorities to La Quinta resident Chris Jelaca. In email exchanges with undercover agents, the male nurse acknowledged having had sexual contact with girls as young as 15.
Jelaca now faces charges of enticing a minor for sex in addition to distribution and possession of child pornography.
Authorities seized more than 26,000 images and movie files of suspected child pornography from his home. Seven other Inland Empire defendants also face charges of possessing, receiving and distributing child pornography.
“Child exploitation crimes victimize the most vulnerable members of our society,” said United States Attorney André Birotte in a press release on the bust. “The victimization of children for sexual purposes is one of the most heinous crimes imaginable, and that is why prosecuting child predators is one of the top priorities of the Justice Department.”