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Authorities Detail Month-Long Crackdown On Online Exploitation Of Children

Audio

Aired 5/7/10

Federal, state and local law enforcement worked together to target online child predators. The effort yielded 25 state and federal prosecutions for possession and distribution of child porn and other crimes, U.S. Attorney Karen Hewitt said today in San Diego.

A month-long effort targeting online child predators yielded 25 state and federal prosecutions for possession and distribution of child porn and other crimes, U.S. Attorney Karen Hewitt said today in San Diego. The arrests are the result of “Operation Artemis,” which cracked down on online child predators.

Pornographic and sexually explicit images seized during "Operation Artemis" included an infant and toddlers being sexually abused and adults having anal sex with children, Hewitt said.

Some of the arrestees were charged with enticing minors to pose naked for photos, which were later posted on the Internet, the prosecutor said.

The investigation was spearheaded by the San Diego Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, whose members include the District Attorney's Office, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other law enforcement agencies.

"We are all united in our efforts to protect children," Hewitt said.

The suspects were tracked down using online surveillance techniques and tips from places like computer servicing stores.

San Diego police Chief William Lansdowne said the sweep serves as a fair warning to online sexual predators.

"We're going to come after you," Lansdowne said.

A registered sex offender was among those arrested, said ICE Acting Special Agent-in-Charge Joe Garcia.

Garcia says the suspects are from all walks of life, including a grocery store clerk, a warehouse worker, a self-employed worker on eBay, a real estate manager, a scientist and a sales consultant.

"Today we want to send a clear message to anyone who thinks they can exploit young children, while hiding behind a computer," said Garcia. "The Internet is not the wild west."

Most of the suspects are San Diego residents, but the victims' identities are less clear. Hewitt says the crimes occurred across multiple jurisdictions, with some child pornography produced overseas.

"It's reprehensible, and we're not going to stand for it," Hewitt said. "To us, it's about protecting kids."

The defendants face anywhere from 37 months to 15 years in prison if convicted, depending on the number of images involved, the prosecutor said.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said parents should be aware of what their children are viewing, noting that computers used by kids should be in a central location and not in children's bedrooms.

Hewitt warns parents that children anywhere are at risk if they reveal their identities to strangers on line.

Kelly Wheeler from City News Service contributed to this report.

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