KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A suburban Kansas City man, who was arrested in May as part of an international investigation into child sexual exploitation, pleaded guilty Monday in federal court to producing child pornography.
This guilty plea resulted from an extensive investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Michael D. Arnett, 38, of Roeland Park, Kan., pleaded guilty to one count of producing child pornography. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison.
During a May 15 search warrant, investigators discovered images of child pornography on a computer at Arnett's home in Roeland Park. The discovered child pornography included images of victims from Overland Park, Kan., who were identified through clues in the photos. For example, some photos showed a water bottle with a unique business logo and a phone number beginning with the 913 local area code. Both clues identified an aquatics business in Overland Park. This detective work allowed HSI investigators to significantly narrow the focus of their search for the victims.
With the assistance of teachers at an elementary school in Shawnee Mission, Kan., HSI investigators ultimately identified three boys who had been photographed at Arnett's home at 5451 Juniper Drive in Roeland Park. At the time the photos were taken, the boys were 11, 8 and 2 years old.
"Child exploitation crimes victimize the most vulnerable members of our society," said Gary Hartwig special agent in charge of HSI Chicago, which oversees Kansas. "Traumatizing children for sexual purposes is one of the most heinous crimes we deal with. To rescue these innocent victims, HSI continues to relentlessly pursue child predators."
HSI special agents were led to Arnett after investigating a New Jersey man named Robert Mucha, who was federally charged with similar crimes in November. According to court documents, using Yahoo Messenger, a web-based chat service, Mucha communicated regularly with a number of individuals who shared a sexual fascination with child cannibalism. Arnett was one of Mucha's chat partners. However, after an extensive investigation, no evidence was ever found to indicate that cannibalism ever took place.
HSI investigators learned that Arnett met his victims while he worked as a driver for Kaw Valley Health Systems, a nonprofit corporation that provides medical care and social services for children. Arnett drove them to family visitations, counseling and other appointments.
Sentencing for Arnett is set for May 13. He faces at least 15 to 30 years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000. There is no early parole in the federal prison system.
Arnett's Feb. 11 guilty plea is part of Operation Holitna, an ongoing HSI-led investigation that originated in Boston. In 2010, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts and HSI Boston arrested Robert Diduca on charges of producing child pornography. Diduca was convicted and sentenced to 18 years in federal prison in June 2012. Forensic analysis of Diduca's computer led investigators to the Netherlands where a Dutch national was arrested and charged with producing, distributing and possessing child pornography, as well as sexually assaulting 87 minors. Since that time, a worldwide network of offenders continues to be unraveled, which also included Arnett. Defendants and victims continue to be identified around the world. To date, more than 150 children have been rescued and 60 perpetrators arrested worldwide as a result of Operation Holitna.
This investigation was part of Operation Predator, a nationwide HSI 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. HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-347-2423 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 & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-843-5678.
HSI is a founding member and current chair of the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies and private industry sector partners working together to prevent and deter online child sexual abuse.