"Child predators rob children of their youth and innocence. One child victimized by a pedophile is one too many," said Andrew M. McLees, special agent in charge of HSI Newark. "This joint effort with the New Jersey Attorney General’s Division of Criminal Justice is a clear indication of HSI’s resolve to seek out those who sexually exploit innocent children."
The arrests, made from Sept. 30 to Oct. 24, mark the first major child pornography sweep conducted by the attorney general’s office under New Jersey’s strict new child pornography law. Thirteen of the men currently are charged with possession of child pornography under the new statute. Prosecutors expect the defendants to also face charges for distributing child pornography under the new state statute if forensic examinations reveal child pornography on the defendants’ computers at the time of the arrests.
The new statute, signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie Aug. 14, enhances the penalties for those who possess, distribute or manufacture child pornography. The new law increases the punishment for virtually all child pornography offenses and aligns New Jersey law more closely with federal law.
If convicted of distributing 25 or more computer files of child pornography under the new law, defendants face a mandatory state prison sentence of five years in prison without the possibility of parole. In addition, any defendant found to possess 100 or more files of child pornography on his computer, will face a presumptive sentence of three to five years in state prison under the new law.
The following individuals are currently charged with third-degree possession of child pornography and second degree distribution of child pornography under New Jersey’s new child pornography statute, with the exception of James Hooker, who is charged with possession under the old statute.
- Huahao "Howard" Chang, 30, of Somerset, arrested Sept. 30. Bail, $75,000.
- Jeffrey M. Mander, 25, of Bridgeton, arrested Oct. 1. Bail, $50,000.
- Juan C. Alvarez, 33, of Egg Harbor, arrested Oct. 2. Bail, $100,000.
- Mark V. Miller, 66, of Millville, arrested Oct. 3. Released without bail.
- Cristian Gonzalez-Araya, 33, of Trenton, arrested Oct. 7. Bail, $100,000.
- Juan S. Montoya, 24, of Pennsauken, arrested Oct. 8. Bail, $100,000.
- Mitchell Beard, 32, of Lower Township, arrested Oct. 9. Bail, $75,000.
- Jackson Beard, 32, of Lower Township, arrested Oct. 9. Bail, $75,000.
- James Hooker, 66, Eastampton, arrested Oct. 10. Bail, $75,000.
- Francis "Frank" P. Gillice, 63, of Cape May Court House, arrested Oct. 15. Bail, $75,000.
- Brian S. Bell, 40, of Woodstown, arrested Oct. 16. Bail, $40,000.
- Celalleti "Steve" Koc, 25, of Hamilton (Mercer County), arrested Oct. 17. Bail, $40,000.
- Cesar Urena-Valverde, 30, of Trenton, arrested Oct. 22. Bail, $100,000.
- Jason Block, 33, of Wrightstown, a fugitive from Colorado, arrested Oct. 24. Bail, $100,000.
"Armed with New Jersey’s tough new child pornography law, we are coming down hard on offenders who, by sharing these vile materials, support and encourage the sexual predators who rape and abuse children to create them," said acting Attorney General Hoffman. "The claim that viewing child pornography online is a victimless crime is yet another affront to the victims whose images and cries can never be erased from the Internet. Each time we identify a viewer who has re-victimized children by taking perverse pleasure in their agony, we will seek justice for that crime."
"By subjecting offenders to parole supervision for life under Megan’s Law, our new child pornography law recognizes that those who get sexual gratification from these abhorrent images pose a real danger to children," said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. "Operation Predator Alert is aptly named because we are sounding the alarm about deviants who troll the Internet for images of children being raped and tortured."
Beginning in June, Cherry Hill HSI special agents monitored an online file-sharing network popular with offenders who download and trade child pornography. Using advanced computer technology, the agents searched for telltale digital "fingerprints" of known child pornography, as well as search terms used by those who download and share child pornography online. Through these and other methods, they identified New Jersey residents who were making child pornography, including child rape videos, available to others in shared folders on their computers.
The file-sharing networks used by offenders to distribute child pornography operate in the same manner as websites used for privately sharing music or movies. Those who possess illegal images can make those images available for others to download. Because many of these videos and photos of child pornography keep recirculating, they result in the perpetual re-victimization of the children who were sexually assaulted or abused to produce them.
Each of the arrested defendants allegedly used Internet file-sharing software to make multiple files containing child pornography readily available for other users to download from a shared folder on his computer. HSI special agents downloaded files containing child pornography from each defendant’s computer during the investigation. The files included videos of child sexual abuse.
The Division of Criminal Justice obtained arrest and search warrants, which they executed with HSI beginning Sept. 30. Numerous state, county and local law enforcement agencies assisted in executing the warrants. Those charged range in age from 24 to 66 years old and come from all walks of life. For example, arrestees include an engineer, a mail carrier, an auto mechanic, a master control operator for a local television network, a retiree, a supermarket customer service representative and a fugitive wanted in Colorado on an auto theft charge.
This investigation was part of Operation Predator, a nationwide HSI initiative to protect children from sexual predators, including those who travel overseas for sex with minors, Internet child pornographers, criminal alien sex offenders and child sex traffickers. HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE 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, 1-800-843-5678.
HSI is a founding member and the U.S. representative of the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies working together to prevent and deter online child sexual abuse.
A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.