CLEVELAND – ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Cleveland special agents and partner agencies brought charges against 47 accused child predators in 2019, as part of the agency's ongoing international effort known as Operation Predator. The arrests represented an increase of nearly 10 percent from 2018 and accounted for nearly 20 percent of all of the office’s investigative work.
Of the 47 men indicted, the vast majority were prosecuted for crimes ranging from possession, production and distribution of online child pornography to child enticement and child sex tourism, among others.
HSI attributes the agency's rising arrests to several factors, among them the key partnerships with state local and federal law enforcement agencies and taskforces like the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
Targeting predators is a top priority for HSI. Nationally, in fiscal year (FY) 2019, HSI initiated 4,224 child exploitation cases resulting in 3,771 criminal arrests, and identified or rescued 1,066 victims – an increase of nearly 18 percent over FY 2018.
"The strength of the ICAC Task Force program is that it brings together local, state and federal law enforcement agencies who share a common goal of arresting and prosecuting online child exploitation offenders while protecting today's youth from the dangers of the internet."
Late last year, HSI special agents and ICAC task force officers arrested Thomas Close, on charges of sexual exploitation of children and receiving and distributing child pornography. He has been in federal custody since his arrest after pleading guilty
An HSI-led investigation resulted in a 15-year prison term against a Canadian man who travelled to the Cleveland-area to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor. Joseph B. Haggerty, 50, was sentenced to 182 months in prison. He previously pleaded guilty to sexual exploitation of a child.
Recently, a Berea, Ohio, man was charged in federal court with sexual exploitation of children and receipt of child pornography after he allegedly contacted several children between the ages of 12 and 15 and coerced them into sending him sexually explicit images. The investigation against Cody Swinnerton, 24, identified more than 72 child victims and resulted in possible leads spanning three continents and several states: Tennessee, Iowa, Texas, Ohio, Nebraska, Washington, Kentucky, and New York, Australia, Austria, and France.
HSI's Operation Predator is an international initiative to protect children from sexual predators. Since the launch of Operation Predator in 2003, HSI has arrested tens of thousands of 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.
HSI takes a victim-centered approach to its child exploitation investigations by working to identify, rescue and stabilize victims. It works in partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and other federal, state, and local agencies to help solve cases and rescue sexually exploited children.
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. From outside the U.S. and Canada, callers should dial 802-872-6199. Hearing impaired users can call TTY 802-872-6196.
Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to NCMEC via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST.