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Child Exploitation
08/19/2008

55 charged in multi-agency agency probe targeting use of peer-to-peer networks to exchange child pornography

LOS ANGELES - Federal and local authorities arrested seven men for possession of child pornography today as part of an ongoing multi-agency investigation spearheaded by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the FBI that has resulted so far in the filing of charges against 55 defendants who allegedly used peer-to-peer networks to exchange sexually graphic images of children.

The charges stem from a eight-month probe led by ICE and the FBI that also involved assistance from numerous other federal and local agencies, including the United States Secret Service. The investigation marks the first time law enforcement has conducted a coordinated sweep broadly targeting peer-to-peer users who share child pornography.

All of the defendants are charged with possession of child pornography, and some are charged with additional offenses, such as production of child pornography and committing crimes while registered as sex offenders. Those charged include a law enforcement officer, attorneys and men with previous convictions related to the child pornography.

One particularly serious case involves a man named Gary Samuel Cochran, a 50-year-old Huntington Beach man who was previously convicted in state court of child molestation and possession of obscene materials depicting minors engaged in sex acts. Earlier this year, investigators found evidence that Cochran was not only sharing child pornography, but that some of the images were pictures he took of a young girl. As a result, he is charged with both possession and production of child pornography. Because of his prior convictions, Cochran faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison if convicted of possessing child pornography, and a mandatory minimum sentence of 35 years in prison if convicted of producing child pornography. If convicted of committing these offenses while a registered sex offender, Cochran would receive an additional 10 years.

Other defendants charged in this investigation with possession of child pornography include:

  • Eric David Lacey, a 48-year-old man who was living above a child daycare facility in Hollywood while being sought in a child pornography case out of North Dakota that was featured on America's Most Wanted; and
  • George Tyler Farmer, 39, of Oxnard, who was previously convicted of molesting a 6-year-old girl.

These cases are the result of a coordinated investigation in which law enforcement used sophisticated software to track down computers on which child pornography was being stored and made available to others via peer-to-peer networks. Peer-to-peer networks are an increasingly popular method for sharing files on the Internet. Using software programs such as Limewire, computer users can join networks that allow the sharing of files across the Internet, often for no charge.

"As criminals exploit technology to commit their crimes - whether it be identity theft, money laundering, distribution of child pornography, or any other criminal conduct - law enforcement will quickly react to develop equally sophisticated means to track down their wrongdoing," said United States Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien.

Salvador Hernandez, assistant director in charge of the FBI in Los Angeles, said: "There is perhaps nothing more reprehensible than an act in exploitation of children - those members of our society who, because of their age and inexperience, are especially vulnerable to manipulation and deceit. America's children are its most cherished and valuable resource. The FBI will continue to do all that it can to protect them from those that would rob them of their innocence."

Robert Schoch, special agent in charge for the ICE office of investigations in Los Angeles, stated: "Today, those involved in child exploitation - like everyone else - are using the remarkable reach of the Internet, and peer-to-peer technology is the latest frontier. But we have a message for child sex predators who think they can escape justice by hiding in Cyberspace. We will do everything in our power and use every tool at our disposal to keep our children safe - whether they are around the block or around the world."

The charge of possession of child pornography carries a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison, unless that person has previously been convicted of a child exploitation crime, in which case any conviction carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years.

The cases announced today were investigated by the FBI's Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement (SAFE) Team and ICE. Members of the FBI's SAFE Team include investigators with the California Department of Justice, the United States Postal Inspection Service, ICE, the California Highway Patrol, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, the Orange County Sheriff's Department and the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office. ICE received substantial assistance in this investigation from the United States Secret Service, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, the Thousand Oaks Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services' Multi-Agency Response Team (MART) and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.