OAKLAND, Calif. - A Bay Area mortgage finance expert, who originally fled to Cuba to avoid federal prosecution, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for producing child pornography as part of an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that revealed he engaged in sexual activity with a pre-teen girl in Costa Rica.
Leonard B. Auerbach, 62, of Orinda, Calif., was sentenced here today by U.S. District Judge D. Lowell Jensen. The sentencing follows Auerbach's guilty plea in August to production of child pornography.
In his plea agreement, Auerbach 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 admitted he took sexually explicit photographs and videos of the victim and transported them back to the United States, where they were recovered by ICE agents during a search of his Orinda home in August 2007. In April 2008, Auerbach fled to Cuba. Subsequently, he was taken into custody by Cuban authorities who expelled him from the country in June, paving the way for his return to the United States.
"Child sex tourism is a despicable, but growing, global problem that must be stopped," said Joseph P. Russoniello, United States attorney for the Northern District of California. "We must have zero tolerance for sex predators who travel abroad and exploit their economic advantage by sexually abusing children in the Third World. Hopefully, Mr. Auerbach's lengthy sentence today sends a powerful message to any Americans who are contemplating similar crimes."
"This sentence should serve as a stern reminder for child sex predators who mistakenly believe they can escape justice by sexually abusing children beyond our borders," said Julie L. Myers, Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for ICE. "As Mr. Auerbach discovered when he fled the country hoping to evade prosecution, international sex tourists are increasingly finding they have no place to hide. ICE will continue to work closely with its law enforcement counterparts nationally and internationally to target those who sexually exploit our children, robbing them of their innocence and their youth."
In addition to the prison term, Judge Jensen ordered Auerbach to pay a $200,000 fine and to forfeit an additional $270,000, the latter figure represents the proceeds from the sale of a Costa Rican beach house Auerbach used to commit the crimes.
The court also ordered Auerbach 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 private, non-profit organization created by Congress in 1984 to help prevent child abduction and sexual exploitation help find missing children, and assist victims of child abduction and sexual exploitation, their families, and the professionals who serve them. In serving this mission, NCMEC assists law enforcement agencies in maintaining records and data relating to child pornography cases such as this case.
The case against Auerbach was prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California.
This investigation itself 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 NCMEC, at 1-800-843-5678 or http://www.cybertipline.com.