Police have arrested 190 people and rescued 18 children in a major US crackdown on child pornography, including some detained in Europe and elsewhere, judicial authorities said on Friday.
Most of the arrests in Operation Orion last month took place in the US, but suspects were also picked up in Argentina, Britain, the Philippines and Spain.
“Many of the child exploitation cases under Operation Orion began with a child or teen chatting with someone he or she met online,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton said.
“Let this operation be a warning to anyone who would think they can use the Internet to exploit children: we are out there looking for you, we will find you and you will be prosecuted,” he added in a statement.
Operation Orion targeted individuals “who possessed, received, transported, distributed, advertised or produced images or videos of child pornography,” the ICE statement said.
Among those arrested was a 35-year-old individual in Louisiana suspected of using the seven-year-old he babysat to make child pornography and a 35-year-old in Oklahoma who offered money for sex to a 14-year-old he met on a social networking site.
In Michigan, a 54-year-old allegedly persuaded an underage boy to join him in illegal sexual conduct that he then photographed, while a 28-year-old was found to have more than 1,200 images and 109 videos of suspected child pornography on computers and media storage devices.
In Los Angeles, eight men were arrested, including one who met his alleged 12-year-old victim on Facebook and who was detained after agents from ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) section pretended to be her online.
Theodore Perez, 29, was arrested on May 1 when he arrived at a shopping mall to meet a 12-year-old girl he met on Facebook.
“In text messages and telephone conversations with undercover HSI agents who had assumed the girl’s identity, Perez allegedly indicated he wanted to commit multiple lewd acts with the child,” it said.
Perez was charged with enticing a minor to commit lewd acts and is being held on a US$100,000 bond.
No details of the arrests conducted overseas were disclosed. ICE said they included some in Argentina, Britain, the Philippines and Spain.
In a separate operation -announced by prosecutors in Indiana, nine people were prosecuted following the dismantling of an international child pornography ring which also pursued suspects in Sweden, Serbia and the Netherlands.
“Defendants ... have been referred to federal prosecutors and law enforcement in other districts across the country and around the world,” US Attorney for the southern district of Indiana Joseph Hogsett said.
“This operation uncovered a dangerous and depraved group of criminals who were devoted to trading sexually explicit images of children under the age of five,” Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer added in a statement issued by the US Department of Justice about Operation Bulldog.
The ICE director said the Operation Orion arrests and the timing could be a good opportunity to warn children about the dangers of online predators.
“With the advent of summer vacation, children may have more time and access to the Internet, making this a good time to talk to them about online dangers,” Morton said.
ICE is part of the US Department of Homeland Security, which in the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30 last year initiated more than 3,000 cases into child exploitation and made 1,455 arrests.
In that same year, the HSI computer forensics program examined the equivalent of 16.5 million filing cabinets of data related to child exploitation cases.