5 O.C. teens identified as victims in widespread child-exploitation investigation

Salazar, Denize, Schwebke Scott, & Member Ipce; Mar 19 2014

14 people charged after largest operation of its kind targeting a child pornography website.

With a comment by Ipce member

ANAHEIM – Five teenage boys from Orange County [O.C.] are among more than 250 juvenile victims identified in one of the largest online child exploitation investigations ever conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations division.

Dubbed Operation Round Table, the investigation involved victims in 39 states and five countries, authorities said Tuesday.

The Orange County victims ranged in age from 14 to 17 and were contacted in online chat rooms, authorities said. Four of the victims were friends from Anaheim, and the fifth lived in San Clemente.

The teens were duped into producing “very graphic images and videos of themselves” and sending them to what they believed were teenage girls when, in fact, they were producing images for pedophiles, said Rob Abrams, who oversees HSI’s Child Exploitation Investigations Group in Long Beach.

The Anaheim victims – who were producing sexually explicit videos independently – learned about the scheme when someone who had seen the images online alerted them, said Homeland Security Investigations spokeswoman Virginia Kice.

Fourteen people – none in Orange County – have been charged as a result of the investigation. It targeted a child pornography website on what is known as the Darknet’s Onion Router – also known as Tor – which is free computer software enabling anonymity online.

The underground website operated from about June 2012 until June 2013, at which time the site contained more than 2,000 videos and had more than 27,000 members, investigators said.

Tor enables online anonymity, directing Internet traffic through a volunteer network consisting of thousands of relays to conceal a user’s location.

The defendants have been indicted on charges of conspiring to operate a child-exploitation enterprise after the international investigation by Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

Eleven of the defendants have been charged in Louisiana and three in other districts. All of the defendants are in federal custody.

Investigators have identified 251 victims, including 228 in the U.S. Most of the victims were 13 to 15 years old, but seven of them were 9 or younger.

Like most of the victims identified in the case, the Orange County teens were enticed by the operators of the Tor site to produce sexually explicit material, according to authorities.

  • “They were coerced into manufacturing child pornographic images of themselves, which is an emerging trend that we’ve seen in these types of cases,” Abrams said. “One of the things that we like to drive home to victims, to potential victims, is that once images of pornography are produced of themselves and shared, they are there forever and they will be re-victimized in perpetuity,” he said.

All of the victims have been contacted by law enforcement. A teenage boy in Sacramento was talked into performing a sex act with an animal and was “mortified” when agents contacted him, Kice said.

The U.S. victims have been offered support from Homeland Security specialists, she said.

  • “Never before in the history of this agency have we identified and located this many minor victims in the course of a single child exploitation investigation,” ICE Deputy Director Daniel Ragsdale said in a statement.
  • “Our agency is seeing a growing trend where children are being enticed, tricked and coerced online by adults to produce sexually explicit material of themselves. While we will continue to prioritize the arrest of child predators, we cannot arrest our way out of this problem. Education is the key to prevention.”

More than 300 investigations have been opened into potential subscribers of the website, including 150 in the United States and 150 overseas. Investigators anticipate ongoing arrests and additional identification of victims as they continue to examine and analyze the more than 40 terabytes of data seized, officials said.

Last year, 2,099 people suspected of being child predators were arrested by Homeland Security Investigations on criminal charges related to the online sexual exploitation of children. That was up from 1,655 in 2012, 1,335 in 2011 and 912 in 2010.

Homeland Security Investigations says it has initiated more than 29,000 cases since 2003, and arrested more than 10,000 individuals in these types of crimes.

Child exploitation cases handled by Homeland Security Investigations

Orange County

• Fiscal Year 2012

  • Criminal Arrests – 25
  • Indictments – 23
  • Search Warrants – 43

• Fiscal Year 2013

  • Criminal Arrests – 21
  • Indictments – 18
  • Search Warrants – 42

• So far in Fiscal Year 2014

  • Criminal Arrests – 9
  • Indictments – 4
  • Search Warrants – 13

Tips for parents:

• Talk to children about Internet predators and whether they have ever been approached online.

• Keep the computer in a common area of the house, but don't forget that online technology is also available on cellphones, laptops, tablets and gaming devices.

• Set limits for which sites can be visited, and have your kids show you which sites they are frequently visiting.

• Recognize the signs of victimization and grooming – if your child has become withdrawn and isolated from friends and family; you find inappropriate material on the computer or mobile device; or your child is communicating or receiving money or gifts from an unknown person.

Sources: Homeland Security Investigations and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

Tips for kids:

• Never share pictures of yourself online that you wouldn't want to be seen by your family, teachers or a total stranger.

• Don't respond to offensive content and don't forward images or information that might hurt or embarrass someone.

• Don't accept friend requests from strangers. Change your passwords regularly so strangers can't find you.

• Set user profile to private so only real friends can get access. Know who you're chatting with - a "friend" is not always a friend.

• Don't share personal information online such as your full name, school address or phone number, or user passwords.

Source: Homeland Security Investigations and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Comment - by Ipce Member

The boys were engaged in two-way video chats. The boys knew that they were talking to adult men. They were not "duped". They took off some of their clothes while on-camera and chatting with the men. Then these recorded chat videos were described as “very graphic images".

They could not have thought that they were  "sending them to what they believed were teenage girls".

They clearly knew that they were producing images for "pedophiles", and they enjoyed doing so.

The supposed "victims" were described as producing "sexually explicit videos", which is not the same as producing "explicitly sexual videos". The police define simple nudity as being "sexually explicit" when it is not actually "explicitly sexual".
"Explicitly sexual videos" means that sexual activity was shown in the videos, while "sexually explicit videos" means anything the police want it to mean, since they define partially-clothed boys as "sexually explicit".

The boys "learned about the scheme when someone who had seen the images online alerted them". We can assume that the boys were embarrassed to have everyone know they took off some of their clothes in front of their web-cameras for the benefit of homosexual men. The boys feared being thought to be homosexual themselves.

If the boys had produced the same videos for their girlfriends, then no crime would have been committed, as the videos were not "explicitly sexual". But because the men involved were interested in male minors, the police re-framed the situation as being "criminal".

"The underground website operated from about June 2012 until June 2013, at which time the site contained more than 2,000 videos and had more than 27,000 members", investigators said.

"Fourteen people ... have been charged as a result of the investigation."

Fourteen were charged out of 27,000 members of he website.

Wow. So many criminals, and so much criminal activity on that website. Thank God for that investigation! The millions of dollars the investigation cost were very well spent! And it is clearly worthwhile that the 26,986 other members of that site who never did anything illegal have now been denied the use of a site they had enjoyed using, and which they used completely legally. Good job, law enforcers!