United States Flag
Official Website of the Department of Homeland Security

Report Crimes: Email or Call 1-866-DHS-2-ICE

Child Exploitation

Federal and Maryland state officials announce impact of strategy to prevent child exploitation

Maryland's project safe childhood program addresses "urgent need to warn parents"

BALTIMORE - Seeking to enhance public awareness about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, federal and state officials held a press conference today to announce Maryland's accomplishments in combating child exploitation, and a new public website launched earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Justice that highlights the work of the U.S. Attorneys' offices on Department of Justice federal criminal priorities and initiatives.


Project Safe Childhood is a unified and comprehensive strategy to combat on-line child exploitation and abuse that combines law enforcement efforts, community action and public awareness. There are five essential components to Project Safe Childhood in Maryland: building partnerships, law enforcement coordination, training, public awareness and accountability. Additional information is available on the Internet.

United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said, "We have stepped up the number of investigations and prosecutions of criminals who sexually exploit children continue to increase in Maryland thanks to the coordinated efforts of local, state and federal law enforcement authorities. Unfortunately, recent cases demonstrate there remains an urgent need to warn parents about the extraordinary risks that pedophiles pose to children, especially on the Internet. Children are most vulnerable to victimization by people they mistakenly trust. We must enhance our efforts to deter pedophiles and save children from abuse."

"Predators stalk and attack the most vulnerable in our society, our children," said William Winter, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Baltimore. "These individuals commit unspeakable acts that often cause irreparable harm robbing the innocent of their innocence. Left on the streets, predators could, and do, victimize communities time and time again. Those who engage in this criminal behavior should be forewarned that ICE's Homeland Security Investigations, along with our law enforcement partners, will use every tool at our disposal to end the sexual exploitation of children and keep our children safe, whether they are around the block or around the world."

The following law enforcement agencies are partners in the Maryland Project Safe Childhood initiative:

  • Aberdeen Police Dept.
  • Allegany County Combined - Criminal Investigative Unit
  • Annapolis Police Dept.
  • Anne Arundel County Police Department
  • Baltimore Police Department
  • Baltimore County Police Department
  • Bel Air Police
  • Cambridge Police Dept.
  • Calvert County Sheriff's Office
  • Carroll County Sheriff's Office
  • Cecil County Sheriff's Office
  • Charles County Sheriff's Office
  • Defense Criminal Investigative Service
  • Department of Health and Human Services
  • Department of Justice, Office of Inspector General
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Frederick County Police Department
  • Garrett County Sheriff's Office
  • Harford County Police Department
  • Howard County Police Dept.
  • ICE - Homeland Security Investigations
  • Kent County Sheriff's Office
  • Maryland National Capital Park Police
  • Maryland State Police
  • Maryland Transportation Authority Police
  • Montgomery County Police Department
  • NASA Office of Inspector General
  • NCIS, Washington Field Office
  • National Security Agency
  • Ocean City Police Dept.
  • Prince George's County Police Department
  • St. Mary's County Police Department
  • Talbot County Sheriff's Office
  • U.S. Marshal's Service
  • U. S. Postal Inspection Service
  • Washington County Sheriff's Office
  • Wicomico County Sheriff's Office


In Maryland, cases alleging sexual exploitation of children have been filed in federal court against 198 defendants since October 2006, the start of Maryland's Project Safe Childhood program. The number of defendants charged annually rose from 39 in 2009 to 50 in 2010. Thirty-six defendants have been charged so far in the current fiscal year, from October 1, 2010 to May 9, 2011.

The cases include prosecutions of online enticement of children to engage in sexual activity; interstate transportation of children to engage in sexual activity; production, distribution and possession of child pornography; advertising; and other offenses. Based on the work done by the Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office, and in recognition of the increasing workload in this area, the Department of Justice granted Maryland two new full-time attorney positions last year to prosecute crimes against children in federal court.

Examples of recent cases and prosecution strategies include the following:

1. Child Pornography

John Fred Nicklas IV, age 35, of Middle River, Maryland, was sentenced on March 22, 2011 to 60 years in prison followed by supervised release for life on two counts of sexually exploiting minors to produce child pornography.

Undercover Baltimore County police detectives received videos and images of child pornography from a computer located at the residence shared by Nicklas and his fianceé, Shannon Honea. A search warrant was executed at their home on July 30, 2009 and over 600 images of child pornography involving prepubescent children and sadomasochistic conduct were seized.

A joint investigation by Baltimore County Police and the FBI revealed that between at least February 15, 2009, and July 30, 2009, Nicklas and Honea arranged to obtain videos depicting the sexual abuse of children and to sexually abuse children in order to make their own videos. Nicklas and Honea arranged for minor females to change clothes at their residence in rooms arranged to visually record the minors, and arranged to have minor females spend the evening at the house so that John Nicklas could sexually abuse the children to produce child pornography.

Nicklas and Honea traveled to other states to obtain the minors. Nicklas sent a letter to Honea explaining that he wanted to have daughters with her so that he could sexually molest the children. He described in detail the sexually explicit activities that he would engage in with the children, starting when they were a year old.

Some of child pornography seized from their home included at least six videos created by Nicklas and Honea depicting him sexually abusing a baby girl.

Shannon Leigh Honea, age 28, also of Middle River, pleaded guilty to the same charges and is scheduled to be sentenced on June 8, 2011. As part of her plea agreement, Honea and the government have agreed that if the Court accepts the plea agreement Honea will be sentenced to between 30 to 35 years in prison followed by supervised release for life.

2. Online Enticement

The U.S. Attorney's Office works extensively with local, state and federal officers who repeatedly check online Internet sites to determine whether predators are looking for children, and also pose as children themselves in order to catch pedophiles and protect real children.

James Cifala, age 48, of Edgewater, Maryland, formerly a lieutenant with the Anne Arundel County Police Department, was sentenced on December 21, 2010 to five years in prison for receiving child pornography. Cifala spoke with a young teenage girl about having sex, but told her that they had to wait until she was 16 years old because she had to earn his trust that she would not tell others. Cifala stayed in contact with the girl by computer using a social networking site and by cell phones. They began exchanging text messages in 2009. Cifala eventually acquired a pre-paid cell phone for the exclusive purpose of sending texts and receiving photos from the victim. Over 1,300 contacts were made between Cifala and the victim over just three weeks, from August 14 to September 6, 2009. Most of the contacts were text messages and many were sexually graphic. Between May and July of 2009, Cifala asked the victim to take and send to his cell phones over 10 photos of the victim engaged in sexually explicit conduct. Cifala used these cell phones and social networking site profiles to arrange sexual encounters with the victim in 2009.

3. Transporting a Child to Engage in Sex

Elmer Zelaya-Robles, age 42, of Grand Prairie, Texas, who worked for a Maryland trucking company, was sentenced on December 6, 2010 to 20 years in prison followed by supervised release for life for transporting an 11 year old girl from Maryland to engage in sex. Zelaya-Robles, a friend of the child's family, had picked up the girl at her parents' home and drove the child by car from Prince George's County to Arlington County, Virginia. Zelaya-Robles and the child entered a tractor trailer truck where they had sexual intercourse. They left Virginia for Texas in the truck. While driving to Texas, Zelaya-Robles stopped at a truck stop and purchased two boxes of condoms. Zelaya-Robles had sexual intercourse with the child at least one more time.

That same day, the child called her mother and stated that she was with Zelaya-Robles. Zelaya-Robles contacted the child's father by telephone, and stated that he was in love with the child. Zelaya-Robles apparently had been talking to the child on the phone for about a year, and planned with the child to reside in Dallas, Texas. The child's family told Zelaya-Robles to return their daughter and that they had contacted the police. Thereafter, Zelaya-Robles made several calls to arrange to cross the border into Mexico and reside in El Salvador.

After an AMBER Alert was broadcast, a Tennessee highway trooper spotted the truck and arrested Zelaya-Robles.

4. Forfeiture of Homes Used to Produce Child Pornography

In addition to seizing computers used by defendants to obtain, view, store and share images depicting the sexual abuse of children, the U.S. Attorney's Office has also sought the forfeiture of homes used by defendants to sexually molest children and produce child pornography. The seizure of homes should send a message that pedophiles can go to prison, lose their computers and lose all their property.

George Kenneth Hayward, age 73, of Kingsville, Maryland, was sentenced on April 21, 2010 to 20 years in prison for sexually exploiting a five year old girl to produce child pornography, and ordered to forfeit his residence and computers. Images of the five year old girl in sexually explicit poses were discovered on Hayward's computers, along with images of a series of minor children in various stages of dress, taken in and outside Hayward's residence. Review of the images Hayward produced revealed that he had the children he photographed replicate the sexually explicit images shown on the child pornography he received over the Internet.

Similarly, homes used to exploit children to produce child pornography were seized from the following two defendants: Todd Patrick Willasch, age 32, of Ridgely, Maryland, was sentenced on July 9, 2010 to 10 years in prison; and Timothy Malcolm Beers, age 49, of Bowie, Maryland, was sentenced in May 2009 to 36 years in prison. Beers paid $75,000, obtained from the sale of his home, to each of two victims who were three and five years old at the time that they were sexually abused.


For the third consecutive year, in order to increase community awareness, the Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office, along with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and other partners, participates in Child Safety awareness activities at Maryland minor league baseball parks and community events. Baseball events are planned for June 3rd at the Hagerstown Suns game, July 22nd at the Bowie Bay Sox game, and August 31 at the Aberdeen Iron Birds games. The most recent community event was "Safe Kids Day" in Salisbury, MD on May 7th in cooperation with the Wicomico County State's Attorney's Office, the local Health Department and the U.S. Secret Service.

The U.S. Attorney's Office also has partnered with the Maryland Attorney General's Office to promote CLICKS, an on-line safety presentation sponsored by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.