FORT PIERCE, Fla. - Special agents with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) arrested Robert Wesley Harden, 21, of Fort Pierce, Fla., Thursday on child pornography related federal criminal charges.
Harden made his initial appearance Friday before U.S. Magistrate Frank J. Lynch on charges of production of child pornography, enticement of minors via the Internet, and receipt of child pornography via the Internet. A detention hearing is scheduled for Dec. 17.
If convicted of production of child pornography, Harden faces a mandatory minimum of 15 years in prison. If convicted of the enticement charge, he faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison. If convicted of receipt of child pornography charge, he faces a mandatory minimum of five years in prison. In addition, Harden faces a minimum of five years and up to a lifetime of supervised release and registration as a sex offender.
ICE HSI special agents executed a federal search warrant at a Port St. Lucie address, where they encountered Robert Harden. At the time, Harden was interviewed and admitted observing child pornography using peer-to-peer applications, but claimed he deleted the files after he determined it was child pornography. Harden denied communicating via the Internet with any underage girls online. Harden provided ICE HSI special agents two of his email addresses and the agents seized his laptop computer in his bedroom.
According to the complaint affidavit, a subsequent forensics examination of Harden's laptop revealed chat files documenting text communications between Harden's screen name and a 15-year-old girl from Iowa. In addition, a review of the computer's contents showed that Harden had repeatedly requested sexually explicit still pictures and web camera transmissions from the victim and her 6-year-old sister. ICE HSI agents also recovered sexually explicit images of the 15 and 6-year-old girls from Harden's computer.
This investigation conducted by ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Ft. Pierce and Cedar Rapids, Martin County Sheriff's Office and the Iowa City Police Department 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 1-866-347-2423. 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.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Carmen Lineberger.