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Child Exploitation
05/15/2014

Passaic County man admits to distributing child porn after HSI investigation

NEWARK, N.J. — A Passaic County pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to using a computer in his home to distribute images of child sexual abuse. The guilty plea follows an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Newark field office.

Manuel Fernandez, 33, of Wayne, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares in Newark federal court to one count of distribution of child pornography. Fernandez has been in custody since his arrest in January 2012.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court, Fernandez admitted that between March 2011 and January 2012 he was a member of an online peer-to-peer file sharing network. Fernandez also admitted he made images and videos of child pornography available for other members to download from his computer. On March 24, 2011, an undercover law enforcement agent successfully downloaded multiple images and videos of child sexual abuse from Fernandez's computer.

On Jan. 25, 2012, HSI executed a search warrant at Fernandez's residence. The agents recovered a one terabyte hard drive and a 250-gigabyte computer tower, both of which contained numerous images and videos of minor children being sexually abused.

As part of his guilty plea, Fernandez agreed to forfeit the computers and computer accessories he used to commit the offense. He will also be required to register as a sex offender. The count to which Fernandez pleaded guilty carries a mandatory minimum penalty of five years in prison and a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison plus up to a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for August 19.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rahul Agarwal prosecuted the case for the government on behalf of U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman's General Crimes Unit in Newark.

This investigation was conducted under HSI's Operation Predator, an international initiative to protect children from sexual predators. Since the launch of Operation Predator in 2003, HSI has arrested more than 10,000 individuals for crimes against children, including the production and distribution of online child pornography, traveling overseas for sex with minors, and sex trafficking of children. In fiscal year 2013, more than 2,000 individuals were arrested by HSI special agents under this initiative.

HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE 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-THE-LOST.

For additional information about wanted suspected child predators, download HSI's Operation Predator smartphone app or visit the online suspect alerts page.

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.