BOSTON - As a new school year begins and children research classroom assignments online, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) alerts parents to more closely monitor their children's Internet activities to avoid child predators.
The warning is supported by data showing more than 1,100 criminal arrests nationwide so far this fiscal year. These arrests are part of Operation Predator, a nationwide ICE HSI initiative launched in 2003 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. The arrests led to more than 2,100 seizures of images and other evidence by ICE HSI special agents in support of their investigations. Since its inception, Operation Predator has resulted in than 6,000 child predator arrests nationwide.
"Our goal is to help safeguard families from these online predators who prey on unsuspecting children by expanding our efforts using the eyes and ears of parents," said Bruce M. Foucart, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Boston. Foucart oversees HSI throughout New England. "Our message is simple: parents, pay attention!"
HSI teams with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to prevent child exploitation throughout New England. The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces help state and local law enforcement agencies develop an effective response to cyber enticement and child pornography cases. This help encompasses forensic and investigative components, training and technical assistance, victim services and community education.
In New England alone, ICE HSI has made approximately 50 criminal arrests so far this fiscal year that led to more than 20 criminal indictments for various child pornography law violations, including possession, distribution, and interstate travel to engage in sexual encounters with minors.
These coordinated law enforcement efforts to investigate and prosecute individuals who sexually exploit children have resulted in significant penalties. Recent cases include:
- Brad Warner, 33, of Acton, Mass., and former co-founder of HammelFit, a Massachusetts fitness and education program designed for children under the age of seven. Warner was sentenced to more than 12 years in a federal prison for receipt and possession of child pornography.
- Douglas Perlitz, 40, of Connecticut, who pleaded guilty to traveling overseas to engage in sex with a minor, was sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison followed by 10 years of supervised release for sexually abusing at least eight minor victims over a 10 year period. A Connecticut federal judge also ordered the distribution of nearly $49,000 in restitution to 16 victims in the Perlitz case.
- Jonathan Zahra, 27, a former Plainville, Conn., middle school technology aide, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for manufacturing child pornography. After his prison term he will also serve 10 years of supervised release.
- Julie Carr, 33, of Mars Hill, Maine, was sentenced to 20 years in prison and 10 years of supervised release for child pornography production.
- James Raymond, 29, of Auburn, Maine, was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment and a lifetime of supervised release for transporting a minor in interstate commerce with the intent to engage in illegal sexual activity. Raymond, then a music teacher in the Auburn school system, transported an 11-year-old student and her younger sister from Auburn to Canobie Lake Park in New Hampshire. On both trips, Raymond made sexual advances.
- Scott Wilson, 41, formerly of Somersworth, N.H., was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for transporting a minor in interstate commerce with the purpose of having the child engage in illegal sexual conduct and possession of child pornography. Once released from prison, Wilson will be required to register as a sex offender and will be placed on supervised release for the remainder of his life.
- Robert M. Lopes, 43, of Coventry, R.I., pleaded guilty to receipt and distribution of child pornography, was sentenced to five years in federal prison and lifetime supervised release. He was also ordered to pay $20,000 in restitution to a victim who appeared in a series of child pornography videos.
HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE. This hotline is 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.