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Child Exploitation

ND psychologist for sex offenders sentenced to 7 years in prison for receiving, possessing thousands of child pornography images

FARGO, N.D. - A psychologist previously employed by the State of North Dakota to work with sex offenders was sentenced to seven years in prison Friday for child pornography crimes. The sentencing was announced by U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley, District of North Dakota, and resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Dr. Joseph Belanger, 61, of Jamestown, N.D., was sentenced before U.S. District Court Judge Ralph R. Erickson to 84 months in federal prison to be followed by a lifetime of supervised release for receiving and possessing materials involving the sexual exploitation of children. Belanger pleaded guilty Oct. 3 to possessing more than 3,000 images and 200 videos of child pornography.

ICE launched an investigation of Dr. Belanger in 2006 after agents determined that he had purchased access to commercial websites containing images and videos of child pornography. ICE agents subsequently obtained a search warrant for Dr. Belanger's Jamestown, N.D., residence and seized various electronic media containing thousands of child pornography images.

Upon his arrest, Dr. Belanger told ICE agents that he was a psychologist with the North Dakota State Hospital and admitted that during his work with sex offenders he developed an interest in child pornography. He said that this interest eventually led to downloading and viewing child pornography.

Michael Mach, resident agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Grand Forks said, "ICE aggressively targets those who prey on innocent victims, especially those who hold positions of public trust. We will continue to work closely with the U. S. Attorney's Office to aggressively investigate and prosecute those who sexually exploit children by collecting these illicit materials."

In response to Belanger's sentence, U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley said, "Dr. Belanger's work made him painfully aware of the horrible crimes and violence that are central to child pornography production and distribution. Still, he chose to shovel money into the child pornography industry that causes young children and infants to be sexualized, violated, and brutalized in the most horrifying manners imaginable. The Belanger prosecution is another example of our Project Safe Childhood initiative bringing justice to the doorstep of those whose actions are robbing children of their innocence."

Project Safe Childhood is a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by U.S. Attorneys' Offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), Project Safe Childhood combines federal, state, and local resources to better locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov.

ICE investigated this case as part of Operation Predator, a national initiative that protects children by investigating and presenting for prosecution pedophiles, Internet predators, human traffickers, international sex tourists, and other predatory criminals. Since Operation Predator was launched in July 2003, ICE agents have arrested more than 11,500 child predators and sex offenders nationwide.

ICE encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE. Investigators staff this hotline around the clock.

Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, at 1-800-843-5678 or www.cybertipline.com.

Assistant U.S.Attorney Jennifer Klemetsrud Puhl, District of North Dakota, prosecuted this case.