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Child Exploitation
01/08/2014

Ukraine-based hardcore child pornography website founder pleads guilty

Investigation led to conviction of 600 American subscribers to illegal site

NEWARK, N.J. – A Ukrainian man who founded and ran an international, hardcore child sexual abuse website pleaded guilty to running a child exploitation enterprise Wednesday and agreed to a 30-year prison term. The guilty plea resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Maksym Shynkarenko, 35, of Kharkov, Ukraine, operated the website between 2005 and 2008. Shynkarenko was initially detained in Thailand in January 2009 pending extradition. He was transported to the United States and has been in federal custody since making his initial court appearance in June 2012.

The investigation into the website Shynkarenko operated has led to convictions in 47 states of 600 American child pornographers.

"The HSI investigation leading to today’s plea resulted in convictions of 600 American consumers of child pornography in 47 states, dozens of whom were previously convicted sex offenders," said Andrew McLees, special agent in charge of HSI Newark. "Today’s plea again underscores HSI’s commitment to taking those who distribute and sell graphic images and videos of child pornography off the street. Shynkarenko founded and operated a website that offered subscribers access to thousands of despicable images and videos of child sexual abuse. As we did in this case, HSI and our international law enforcement partners will continue to use every tool at our disposal to track down those who exploit children and bring them to justice."

"The guilty plea of Maksym Shynkarenko is the capstone to an operation that has led to the imprisonment of hundreds of offenders who traded in recorded images of horrific child abuse and torture," said U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman. "Because of today’s technology, the images of that abuse will be available for years. It’s fitting that Shynkarenko will spend the next three decades of his life in a prison cell paying for the pain from which he has profited."

According to court documents, from 2006 through 2008, Shynkarenko operated a website from Ukraine that he helped design. The website offered access to thousands of images and videos of child sexual abuse. Subscribers typically paid a fee of $79.99 for a 20-day subscription to the website. Shynkarenko worked in conjunction with other individuals, including an individual from Siberia who helped process credit card payments in a way that disguised the true nature of what was purchased. Shynkarenko and the other individuals operating the website granted access to images and videos of child pornography to subscribers on hundreds of occasions from 2006 to 2008. Shynkarenko said he worked with other individuals who advertised the child pornography website over the Internet under names such as "Illegal.CP" and "Pedo Heaven."

HSI special agents first located the child pornography website in October 2005, based in part on emails recovered from an individual’s computer in Long Branch. At that time, the banner page of the site identified it as "Illegal.CP," and the page featured more than a dozen images of minors engaged in sexual acts with other minors and adults. That page declared "[n]ow you are in [sic] few minutes away from the best children porn site on the net!" and "[i]f you join this site you will get tons of uncensored forbidden pics....forbidden stories, of course, many videos." The words "join now" appeared at the top and bottom of the page.

A special agent, acting in an undercover capacity, purchased a 20-day subscription to the "Illegal.CP" website in October 2005, and the next day received an email that provided a login and a password and indicated that the credit card charges for $79.99 would appear on the subscriber’s credit card bill as "ADSOFT." Upon accessing the "Illegal.CP" website, the initial page warned subscribers:

"FAQ, Please read. Our site is considered to be illegal in all countries....Even if you ever have problems with police, you can always say that someone had stolen the information from your credit card and used it. It is very difficult to establish that you were the person to pay."

HSI special agents determined that the site contained thousands of images and videos of child sexual abuse. Subscribers could also purchase additional videos through the website.

Working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, HSI special agents in Newark were able to identify hundreds of individuals who subscribed to the "Illegal.CP" website between November 2005 and February 2006. Those leads, largely developed through special agents’ monitoring of the website, led to what became a three-phase investigation - Operation Emissary, Emissary II and Thin Ice.

In late 2006, special agents recovered a database of hundreds of additional individuals whose credit cards had been processed while subscribing to the "Illegal.CP" website. During the third phase in 2008, the HSI special agents focused more on the operators of the website and recovered evidence of hundreds of additional individuals who had attempted to subscribe.

The leads, along with master search warrants prepared by the New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s Office, were distributed to HSI offices and U.S. attorney offices throughout the nation. The investigation has led to the conviction of 600 individuals in 47 states, making the investigation one of the most successful child sexual abuse investigations in the nation’s history.

Shynkarenko faces life in prison when he is sentenced April 15. Under the terms of the plea agreement, the court will sentence Shynkarenko to 30 years in prison. He also faces a $250,000 fine or twice the gross amount of any pecuniary gain derived from the offense.

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.