Manu Panatkul, 51, was taken into custody Friday night by agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) shortly after arriving on a Korean Airlines flight from his native country. The arrest came after the retired biology teacher was referred for secondary inspection by officers with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). According to the criminal complaint filed in the case, CBP officers' search of Panatkul's effects resulted in the discovery of 36 digital video discs. A preliminary analysis of three of those discs by CBP and ICE HSI forensics specialists showed they contained videos of child pornography, including depictions of prepubescent minors engaged in sexual conduct.
Panatkul is charged in a criminal complaint with one count of transportation of child pornography. At Panatkul's initial court appearance Monday afternoon, U.S. Magistrate Judge Lawrence R. Leavitt ordered him detained pending trial. The transportation charge carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison.
"Every time images of child pornography are viewed, the young innocents shown in these scenes are victimized again," said Michael Harris, assistant special agent in charge for ICE HSI in Las Vegas. "We must never forget, materials like this involve real children who are being sexually abused and exploited in unconscionable ways. ICE will continue to work closely with its law enforcement partners here and around the world to target those who produce, transport or possess child pornography to see that they are brought to justice."
"This critical interception illustrates the frontline vigilance, distinctness and expertise of CBP officers and agriculture specialists in protecting the U.S. against those who could pose a threat to America's children. CBP frontline personnel involved in this apprehension demonstrated crucial skills, sharp focus and profound commitment in keeping our borders secure," said Todd Owen, CBP Director of Field Operations in Los Angeles.
This investigation is part of ICE's Operation Predator, a nationwide initiative to identify, investigate and arrest those who sexually exploit children, and the Department of Justice's Project Safe Childhood, which marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet.
As part of Operation Predator, ICE encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-347-2423. 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.
Through Project Safe Childhood (PSC), the Department of Justice is seeking to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by U.S. Attorneys' Offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, PSC mobilizes federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims.
For additional information on the PSC initiative, go to www.projectsafechildhood.gov or call the U.S. Attorney's Office for Nevada and ask to speak with the PSC coordinator.