Federal agencies, prosecutors cooperate to combat Internet abuse of children -- Gazette.Net


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When 36-year-old Germantown resident Christopher Andrew Myers was sentenced to 5 years in prison on Jan. 2, his conviction became the latest victory of a federal initiative enacted 6 years ago to crack down on child sex offenders.

Launched by the U.S. Department of Justice in May 2006, Project Safe Childhood has led to 227 convictions in over 270 online child exploitation cases in Maryland federal court, said Marcia Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland.

Myers, who was convicted after a five day trial last year of possessing and distributing more than 3,000 images of child pornography through various online networks, was the first conviction in Maryland under the program in 2013.

“The benefit it provides us is, number one, it allows us to prosecute those people who are involved in the production and distribution of child pornography,” Maryland U.S. District Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said of the program. “Secondly, the growth of the Internet has spawned a network of child sexual predators. We’ve traced images of child pornography to other states and other countries, so it’s far bigger than any one agency can handle.”

To address the issue, Project Safe Childhood combines the nationwide investigative abilities of federal agencies like the FBI and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency with local police teams like the Maryland State Police’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, Rosenstein said.

“Typically, a federal investigation will identify a network that is offering child pornography, shut it down, and then send leads around the country to local agencies and law enforcement groups based on individuals who were actively using those networks,” Rosenstein explained.

Myers was first identified early on in the program when, in 2006, he bought a 30 day subscription to a website offering more than 10,000 images and videos of child pornography, Murphy said, citing court documents. In August 2010, an undercover police officer downloaded three images from a database of more than 3,100 files that Myers had begun distributing that year and a search warrant was obtained for his house, in which his laptop was seized, Murphy said.

Investigators identified 674 images and videos of confirmed child pornography on Myers’ laptop, she added.

Project Safe Childhood is far from the only federal program targeting child sex offenders, but most other initiatives, like the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations branch, operate solely within one agency and do not always benefit from the broader pool of resources.

For that reason, a plethora of interagency partnerships exist to combat the growing crime of online child exploitation, said ICE spokeswoman Nicole Navas. ICE participates in Safe Childhood and with the U.S. Department of Justice-funded Internet Crimes Against Children task force, among other efforts, she said.

“Homeland Security places a high priority on enforcing laws that combat the sexual exploitation of children,” Navas said. “Under Operation Predator, the agency’s flagship initiative targeting child sex predators, ICE has made more than 8,000 criminal arrests since 2003.”

As far as Rosenstein is concerned, the more agencies focusing on curbing child exploitation, the better.

“Many of these folks are repeat offenders and we don’t always catch their first offense,” he said of the need for such partnerships. “We’re not seeing a decrease in these crimes.”

Perhaps the greatest benefit to prosecuting child exploitation cases federally is the strict penalties for offenders and the even harsher punishments for repeat offenders, Rosenstein said.

Anyone convicted of possessing child pornography is subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years and repeat offenders must receive at least 15 years. Minimum sentences for the manufacture of child pornography are even longer, Rosenstein said.

“In federal court we can prosecute them simply for the possession of an image of the abuse, and they can often end up getting an even longer sentence than they would for actual physical abuse if they were tried in a state court,” he said. “Any conviction also subjects that person to a lifetime of supervision and mandatory registration as a sex offender.”

jarias@gazette.net