WASHINGTON - Four defendants were sentenced on Friday in connection with their participation in an online child pornography conspiracy, and a fifth defendant was sentenced for receiving child pornography. The sentences resulted from a joint investigation conducted by the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) of the U.S. Department of Justice Criminal Division, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Indiana, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Michael Baratta, 49, of Sacramento, Calif., was sentenced to 15 years in prison for his role in the conspiracy as an administrator of an online bulletin board dedicated to advertising and distributing child pornography. Scott Van Dorp, 51, of Nashville, Ind., also was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the role he played in the conspiracy, and for his criminal conduct related to a second Internet bulletin board containing child pornography. William Watkins, 39, of Lake Worth, Fla., was sentenced to 15 years in prison for his role in the conspiracy as a moderator of the Internet-based bulletin board. March Beren Reeder, 33, of Harrisburg, Pa., was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his participation in the conspiracy.
All four defendants pleaded guilty July 2 in federal court in Indianapolis before U.S. District Court Judge William T. Lawrence to one count of conspiracy to advertise child pornography, one count of conspiracy to distribute child pornography, two counts of advertising child pornography and two counts of distributing child pornography. Van Dorp also pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to advertise child pornography and one count of conspiracy to distribute child pornography for his role in the second Internet bulletin board. Each defendant was also sentenced to a lifetime of supervised release following after they complete their prison sentences.
According to court documents filed in the Southern District of Indiana, the 26 co-conspirators participated in a sophisticated, password-protected Internet bulletin board group. The group existed to allow members to meet like-minded individuals with a sexualized interest in children, to discuss that interest and to trade images of child pornography. The defendants were charged with conspiring to advertise and distribute child pornography, along with substantive counts of advertising and distributing child pornography. Twenty-two of the 26 defendants charged in the conspiracy have been arrested. Twenty of the 22 individuals arrested have been convicted or have pleaded guilty. Nine of the 20 individuals who have pleaded guilty for their role in the conspiracy have been sentenced to prison on previous dates.
Four of the 26 individuals charged in the conspiracy remain at large and are known only by their online identities. Efforts to identify and apprehend these four individuals continue.
In a separate case, Christopher Philpot of Rushville, Ind., was sentenced July 2 to 60 months in prison and lifetime supervised release following his prison term for receiving child pornography. Philpot, 32, pleaded guilty on April 17, 2009 in the Southern District of Indiana to one count of receiving child pornography.
The charges against Baratta, Van Dorp, Watkins, Reeder and 22 co-defendants, as well as against Philpot, are a result of "Operation Nest Egg," an ongoing and joint investigation launched in February 2008. Operation Nest Egg targeted about 500 additional individuals located throughout the world for their involvement in an online group dedicated to trading images of child pornography.
"Predators who victimize innocent children for selfish gratification must know that we will not rest until they are brought to justice, regardless of where they live," said Gary Hartwig, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Chicago. "Words cannot describe the harm that these crimes inflict on children."
As a result of Operation Nest Egg, more than 80 searches have been conducted to date in the United States. In total, more than 50 individuals have been arrested and 38 individuals have been convicted. The investigation is ongoing. Numerous members of the Internet-based bulletin board were found to have been personally sexually abusing children, sometimes producing images of the sexual abuse.
For example, lead administrator Delwyn Savigar of the United Kingdom was identified and arrested in partnership with the U.K.'s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre for his involvement in the conspiracy. After his initial arrest, Savigar was identified through DNA testing as the perpetrator of a previously unsolved sexual assault against a girl in Great Britain, to which he pleaded guilty. Following this discovery, Savigar was linked to additional incidents of sexual assaults. Ultimately, he pleaded guilty to either abusing or attempting to abuse three minors from 1999 to 2002. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison in the United Kingdom. To date, 16 child victims have been identified through Operation Nest Egg.
The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven D. DeBrota of the Southern District of Indiana, Assistant U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District of Virginia and former CEOS Trial Attorney Elizabeth M. Yusi and CEOS Trial Attorney Alecia Riewerts Wolak. CEOS Trial Attorney Anitha S. Ibrahim also prosecuted the case against Philpot. The investigation was conducted jointly by CEOS' High Technology Investigative Unit, USPIS and ICE, with assistance provided by the Indiana Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Taskforce, Indiana State Police and numerous local and international law enforcement agencies across the United States and Europe.
This investigation was part of Operation Predator, a nationwide ICE initiative to protect children from sexual predators, including those who travel overseas for sex with minors, Internet child pornographers, criminal alien sex offenders, and child sex traffickers. Since Operation Predator was launched in July 2003, ICE agents have arrested more than 12,800 individuals.
ICE encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE. This hotline is staffed around the clock by investigators.
Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, at 1-800-843-5678 or http://www.cybertipline.com.