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Child Exploitation

Bay Area mortgage finance expert pleads guilty to child pornography charges

Plea calls for 15-year sentence and payment of more than $170,000 in restitution

OAKLAND, Calif. - A Bay Area mortgage finance expert, who originally fled to Cuba to avoid federal prosecution, pleaded guilty here today to producing child pornography as part of an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) into allegations he engaged in sexual activity with a girl in Costa Rica beginning when she was 12 years old.

In his plea agreement, Leonard B. Auerbach, 61, admitted that between September 2004 and April 2007, he traveled to Costa Rica to engage in a sexual relationship with a minor victim born in April 1992. Auerbach further admitted he took sexually explicit photographs and videos of the victim and transported them to the United States, where they were recovered by ICE agents when they executed a search warrant at his Orinda, Calif., home in August 2007.

Under the plea agreement, Auerbach agreed to serve a 15-year prison term, pay a $200,000 fine, and forfeit $270,000, proceeds from the sale of a Costa Rican beach house he used to commit the crime. Auerbach also agreed to pay $178,000 in restitution - $78,000 to the minor victim and $100,000 to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). NCMEC is a non-profit organization created by Congress in 1984 to help prevent child abduction and child sexual exploitation, and to assist the victims in these crimes, their families, and the professionals who serve them.

Auerbach remains in federal custody awaiting his formal sentencing, which is set for November 14 before U.S. District Court Judge D. Lowell Jensen. The case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California.

Auerbach was returned to the United States in June after Cuban authorities expelled him, citing the seriousness of the criminal charges pending against him in this country.

This investigation into Auerbach's activities is part of ICE's Operation Predator, an ongoing initiative targeting those who sexually exploit children. Since Operation Predator was launched in July 2003, ICE agents have arrested more than 11,000 individuals nationwide. The public is encouraged to report suspected child predators and suspicious activity by contacting ICE's 24-hour toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE; and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, at 1-800-843-5678 or www.cybertipline.com.