By all appearances, they were respected and trusted members of their communities — a nurse, a paramedic, a police officer, a police chief, a rabbi, an au pair, a Boy Scout leader.
They were also among 70 New York City-area men and one woman charged after using the Internet to collect and trade child porn — one of the largest-ever area busts seeking such predators, officials said Wednesday. It ended a five-week investigation by the Homeland Security Investigations arm of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“The sheer volume of confirmed and suspected instances of individuals engaging in the sexual exploitation of children … and the professional backgrounds of many of the defendants is troubling. We can no longer assume the only people who would stoop to prey on children are unemployed drifters,” said James T. Hayes Jr., head of ICE’s New York office.
Some of the defendants, using search terms such as “real child rape” and “family sex,” had downloaded thousands of images. Authorities issued 87 search warrants and seized nearly 600 desktop and laptop computers, tablets, smartphones and other devices — with more than 175 terabytes of data, including videos and pictures of children.
The woman suspect was accused of allowing another suspect to videotape her son.
The New York Daily News reported that children as young as 3 were sexually abused.
“These crimes are hideous. And reasonable people cannot fathom such depravity,” Hayes said at a press conference. “We discovered tens of thousands of images that were horrifying and depicted children in positions they should never be forced into.”
Authorities launched the operation earlier this year after arresting Brian Fanelli, former chief of the Mount Pleasant Police Department in Valhalla, N.Y., who pleaded not guilty this week to federal charges of knowingly receiving and distributing child porn, the Associated Press reported.
In May, agents posed as child porn collectors who wanted to anonymously trade porn through file-sharing programs others use to share pirated music and movies. Once they had access to personal libraries, the agents found the numeric IP addresses of the sources of the porn, according to the AP. The next step as was to subpoena Internet service providers to obtain the names of people associated with the IP addresses.
One of the defendants had been previously convicted of sexually abusing a child. Another is charged with producing and distributing porn using her own child, police said.