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Child Exploitation

Florida puppeteer sentenced to 20 years on child pornography charges

HSI Tampa leadership speaks with the media after church puppeteer is sentenced on child pornography charges.
HSI Tampa leadership speaks with the media after church puppeteer is sentenced on child pornography charges.

TAMPA, Fla. – A Largo man was sentenced Monday to 20 years in federal prison for receipt and possession of child pornography.

An investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) led to the sentencing.

In addition to the 20 years in prison, Ronald William Brown, 58, must also serve a lifetime of supervised release.

According to court documents, HSI special agents executed a search warrant at the Kansas residence of Michael Arnett and seized computers May 15, 2012. A forensic examination of Arnett's computers revealed that he communicated and exchanged child pornography materials with other individuals using online chat programs. He also engaged in extremely graphic discussions regarding kidnapping, sexually abusing, murdering and eating children.

One of the individuals with whom Arnett discussed these acts was Brown. Arnett was arrested a week later on production of child pornography charges.

HSI special agents executed a search warrant at Brown’s Largo residence July 19, 2012. During the search, they seized multiple pieces of electronic media, including a computer, various CDs and DVDs, microdisks, cameras and a thumb drive.

A forensic review of Brown's electronic media showed that he possessed hundreds of images of child pornography and child erotica, including various images showing children being bound and tortured.

Additionally, Brown had hundreds of images of deceased children. In chats with various individuals, Brown discussed abducting, torturing and murdering children.

"Brown, a church puppeteer, lived a double life," said Shane Folden, deputy special agent in charge of HSI Tampa. "Behind closed doors, he had a sick obsession that focused on children. Let this case be an example to other child predators. We will find you, arrest you and make sure you are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Homeland Security Investigations does not tolerate adults that prey on innocent children."

Brown pleaded guilty to five counts of receiving child pornography and three counts of possessing child pornography March 25.

Brown’s sentencing is part of Operation Holitna, an ongoing HSI-led investigation that originated in Boston. The operation stems from the arrest of Robert Diduca by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts and HSI Boston in 2010 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 – including Brown – has been unraveled. Defendants and victims continue to be identified around the world.

To date, more than 160 children have been rescued, and more than 50 perpetrators arrested worldwide as a result of Operation Holitna.

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 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.