MIAMI - A 61-year-old mortgage finance expert from the San Francisco area, who fled the country two months ago rather than face child sex tourism charges, is scheduled to make his initial appearance in federal court here today following his deportation from Cuba Friday.
Leonard B. Auerbach, of Orinda, Calif., will appear before Magistrate Judge Patrick A. White at 1:30 p.m. Auerbach became a fugitive when he failed to appear in early April for his arraignment in federal court in Oakland, Calif., on charges of child sex tourism and possession of child pornography.
Auerbach arrived here Friday morning after Cuba expelled him, citing the “grave” nature of the criminal charges pending against him in the United States. The San Francisco Bay Area man was found in Cuba and taken into custody by Cuban authorities May 7.
Auerbach's return to the United States was the result of a cooperative effort involving the Cuban government, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Justice, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
"This fugitive's return wouldn't have happened without the extraordinary efforts of all the parties involved and their collective determination to see this defendant brought to justice," said Julie L. Myers, Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for ICE. "This case shows yet again the level of international resolve to ensure that those who prey on children do not go unpunished."
Patrick D. Donovan, acting principal deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), stated, "It's this type of close, worldwide law enforcement liaison capability that gives Diplomatic Security unparalleled ability to return fugitives like Auerbach. His return highlights the critical role DS plays in bringing suspects and fugitives to justice, regardless of where they may hide. Auerbach's apprehension was a direct result of law enforcement coordination and field efforts by Diplomatic Security, ICE, and Cuban police and immigration officials."
Prior to his capture, Auerbach was featured on ICE's list of "most wanted" fugitives. The charges against Auerbach stem from an ICE probe that began almost two years ago into allegations he traveled repeatedly to Costa Rica to engage in sexual activity with a girl as young as 12. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California.
According to affidavits filed in the case, Auerbach traveled approximately 40 times to Costa Rica between 2003 and 2007. During the execution of search warrants at Auerbach's Orinda home in August 2007, federal agents recovered child pornography containing embedded data indicating the images were taken at least as early as September 2004, when the child shown was 12 years old. The affidavit further states that the embedded data indicates the images correspond with at least 10 trips Auerbach took to Costa Rica between September 2004 and April 2007.
The court documents also contain quotes from a conversation that was secretly recorded in July 2007 where Auerbach refers to his "girlfriend," acknowledges her age, comments on pictures that he has taken of the child when "her clothes are off or half on," and refers to having sex with the child.
Auerbach has been indicted on one count of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places, one count of travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct, one count of production of child pornography, and one count of possession of child pornography. The two counts involving child sex tourism each carry a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. The production of child pornography count is punishable by up to 30 years, with a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence. The possession of child pornography count carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years.
This investigation into Auerbach's activities is part of ICE's Operation Predator, an ongoing initiative targeting those who sexually exploit children. Since Operation Predator was launched in July 2003, ICE agents have arrested more than 11,000 individuals nationwide, including more than 2,300 in California. The public is encouraged to report suspected child predators and suspicious activity by contacting ICE's 24-hour toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE; and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, at 1-800-843-5678 or http://www.cybertipline.com