Each year, millions of children fall prey to sexual predators. These young victims are left with permanent psychological, physical, and emotional scars. ICE HSI targets and investigates child pornographers, child sex tourists and facilitators, human smugglers and traffickers of minors, criminal aliens convicted of offenses against minors and those deported for child exploitation offenses who have returned illegally. Seeking to end this criminal activity and protect children worldwide, ICE HSI developed Operation Predator, an initiative to identify, investigate and arrest child predators and sexual offenders. Operation Predator draws on ICE's unique investigative and enforcement authorities to safeguard children. Coordinated nationally and internationally, Operation Predator brings together an array of ICE HSI disciplines and resources to target these child sex abusers.
"As we enter a new year, these prosecutions should serve as a public reminder that child exploitation and the despicable behavior of child predators will not be tolerated in Vermont and elsewhere," said Bruce M. Foucart, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in New England. "The reminder is also an assurance that we are continuing to strengthen our partnerships with U.S. attorneys and all of our federal, state and local law enforcement partners to aggressively identify, arrest, prosecute and punish those who continue to prey on our children."
"Child exploitation cases involve some of our society's most vulnerable victims," said U.S. Attorney Tristram J. Coffin, District of Vermont. "We intend to continue pursuing these cases aggressively with the help of our partners at HSI and the state and local level."
The ICE HSI office in Boston, which oversees investigations throughout New England, investigated and prosecuted – or is in the process of prosecuting – the following significant cases in Vermont throughout 2011:
- Eric Achenbach of Vernon, Vt., was sentenced Dec. 28, 2011. He was sentenced to 79 months in federal prison for possession and receipt of child pornography, followed by a lifetime of supervised release. Achenbach was a former Brattleboro High School teacher. Pursuant to his plea agreement, he was required to pay $33,000 to the victims of his crimes.
- Shawn Simard of St. Johnsbury, Vt., pleaded guilty Dec. 21, 2011 to possession of child pornography. Sentencing is scheduled for April 9, 2012.
- Richard Fletcher of Sheffield, Vt., was indicted Nov. 17, 2011, for various charges including possession and receipt of child pornography. Additionally, he has been charged with enticement and coercion of a minor.
- David Runnion of Brattleboro, Vt., was sentenced Nov. 1, 2011. He was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison followed by 10 years of supervised release for possession of child pornography. Runnion was a conductor for the Vermont Windham Orchestra, and had worked part time at Brattleboro (Vt.) High School.
- Robert Dykes of Brattleboro, Vt., pleaded guilty Nov. 1, 2011, to receipt of child pornography. Dykes, a school safety officer and athletic director at Brattleboro Middle School, was having sexual relations with a 13-year-old female student. The girl took graphic photos of herself and sent those to Dykes. Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 24, 2012.
- Joshua Tuure of Jericho, Vt., was sentenced Oct. 24, 2011. He was sentenced to three months in federal prison followed by five years of supervised release for possession of child pornography.
- Timothy Durrum of Poultney, Vt., was sentenced Oct. 13, 2011. He was sentenced to three years in federal prison followed by 10 years of supervised release for possession of child pornography.
- Stephen Comstock of Springfield, Vt., was indicted June 3, 2011, for possession and transportation of child pornography. A search of electronic media revealed more than 20,000 videos and images of child pornography. Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 17, 2012.
The majority of these individuals will be required to register as sex offenders anywhere that they live, work or go to school. Criminal indictments are only charges and are not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
All of these investigation involved numerous federal, state and local law enforcement agencies throughout Vermont, including:
- The Vermont Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (comprised of nearly 20 law enforcement agencies);
- Vermont State Police;
- State of Vermont Probation and Parole;
- Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations;
- Burlington Police Department;
- South Burlington Police Department;
- Brattleboro Police Department;
- Keene (N.H.) Police Department;
- St. Johnsbury Police Department ;
- State of Vermont Probation and Parole;
- Vernon Police Department; and
- Springfield Police Department.
Without the participation of these law enforcement agencies, the ability to successfully investigate, arrest and prosecute child predators would be limited.
ICE HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are 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.