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Child Exploitation

Federal, State and Local law enforcement officers recognized for their role in the identification, apprehension and conviction of child predator

BELLA VISTA, Ark. - Federal, state, and local law enforcement officers were recognized here on Oct. 2, by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agent-in-Charge Michael A. Holt and U.S. Attorney Robert C. Balfe for their outstanding contributions to a joint investigation that led to the conviction of Brian Bergthold.

Bergthold, a child predator from Bella Vista, Arkansas, was sentenced in federal court on Aug. 21, 2008, to 70 years in prison for producing and transporting child pornography. He was also fined $75,000.00 and ordered to serve a lifetime of supervised release following release from prison.

On Sept. 16, 2008, Bergthold entered a guilty plea in Benton County Circuit Court to sexually assaulting two boys. He was sentenced to serve 40 years in the Arkansas Department of Corrections for those charges. Bergthold's house in Bella Vista was ordered forfeited as part of the federal criminal case under statutes that provide for the forfeiture of property used to commit child pornography offenses. Computer and technical equipment used by Bergthold were forfeited through state prosecution.

The investigation, which began with the Bella Vista Police Department, led to the discovery of the production of child pornography in Arkansas and Oregon. During the search of Bergthold's home in Bella Vista, investigators located a VHS tape that contained video images of two minors engaged in sexual activity. Investigators in Arkansas took the investigation to Oregon and found evidence that Bergthold produced the VHS tape in the State of Oregon and transported the videotape when he moved from Oregon to Arkansas. In a written plea agreement filed in the federal court case, Bergthold admitted that during the time he acted as a foster parent for the Arkansas Department of Human Services he had sexual contact with and produced several photos and videos of a minor who had been placed in his care and custody. Charges brought in federal court in Oregon for production of child pornography were transferred to the Western District of Arkansas where, on July 26, 2007, Bergthold pleaded guilty to that charge as well as the two-count information for producing and transporting child pornography filed in the Western District of Arkansas.

"Too many children are victimized by predators who target the most vulnerable among us - our children," said Holt, special agent-in-charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in New Orleans. "ICE is committed to apprehending and presenting for prosecution cases involving those who abuse our children and endanger their lives and well-being. We will continue working with federal, state and local agencies to ensure that those who try to hurt children are brought to justice."

ICE Senior Special Agent Ricky Gabbard, Fort Smith's resident agent in charge received recognition for his participation in the investigation that led to federal charges and the forfeiture in the case.

Detective Barb Shrum of the Bella Vista Police Department was recognized for her excellent efforts in the investigation. The Bella Vista Police Department was supported by the Benton County Sheriff's Office; the Fayettevil1e Police Department; the Bentonville Police Department; the Fort Smith Police Department and the Arkansas State Police.

Those recognized at the ceremony were Fort Smith Police Sergeant Adam Holland; Fayetteville Police Detective Mike Parks; Bentonville Police Detective John Hubbard and Benton County Sheriff's Office Detective Dennis Schumacher. They were recognized for their work on the case including forensic analysis. Detective Tom Boyle of the Bentonville Police Department; Detective Joe Barnes of the Fort Smith Police Department; Belinda Reynolds of the Arkansas State Police Division for Crimes Against Children and Debra McDougal, formerly of the Bentonville Juvenile Detention Center, were each recognized for their contributions to the investigation.

For their assistance to the investigation and support of the victims, Belinda Reynolds, Erin Kraner, Megan McCool, and Natalie Tibbs of the Children's Advocacy Center in Benton County, were also recognized by ICE Special Agent-in-Charge Michael A. Holt and U.S. Attorney Balfe.

This investigation was part of Operation Predator, a nationwide ICE 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. Since Operation Predator was launched in July 2003, ICE agents have arrested more than 11,500 individuals nationwide.

ICE encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE. This hotline is staffed around the clock by investigators.

Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, at 1-800-843-5678 or www.cybertipline.com.

This case was also part of Project Safe Childhood (PSC). In Feb. 2006, the Department of Justice created Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative designed to protect children from online exploitation and abuse. Led by the U.S. Attorneys Offices, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as identify and rescue victims. For information about Project Safe Childhood, visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov/.