JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Florida man pleaded guilty to a federal charge of receiving child pornography over the Internet Monday, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.
Andrew Hitas, 64, of Palm Coast, Fla., faces five to 20 years in federal prison and a potential life term of supervised release.
Hitas has been in custody since his arrest on Oct. 26 in Palm Coast.
According to court documents, in March, NCIS received information from ICE HSI that an Internet Protocol (IP) address assigned to Hitas had been identified as downloading images containing child pornography from a particular child pornography website.
On May 26, an NCIS agent and another task force officer interviewed Hitas at his residence in Palm Coast. Among other things, Hitas stated that he looks at naturalist sites that include nude photos of children. Hitas was shown four images depicting children that were obtained from the Web access log pertaining to the IP address assigned to him.
The images that he recognized were of teenage girls who were completely nude, posing in a sexually suggestive manner. Hitas was then shown four other images that were obtained from the same Web access log. These images contained minor males and females that appear to be as young as two years old engaged in sexual acts. Hitas was asked if he would consider those images to be child pornography, and he said "yes."
According to court documents, after Hitas was advised that the agents would seize his computers, Hitas invited the agents into his bedroom and stated "It's all on there," referring to a particular computer. Hitas acknowledged that he had images and videos of child pornography, and that he had been engaged in this type of activity since 2004. Subsequent forensic analysis of one of Hitas' computers revealed that it contained 3,904 images and 514 videos depicting child pornography.
The investigation was part of Operation Predator, a nationwide ICE initiative to identify, investigate and arrest those who prey on children, including human traffickers, international sex tourists, Internet pornographers, and foreign-national predators whose crimes make them deportable.
ICE encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE and 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.