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Child Exploitation

Former Texas graduate student pleads guilty to child pornography offense

FORT WORTH, Texas - A former graduate student from India pleaded guilty on Friday before U.S. District Judge John McBryde to one count of possessing child pornography. The plea was announced by U.S. Attorney James T. Jacks of the Northern District of Texas. The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Sheldon Fernandes, 30, faces a maximum statutory sentence of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and a lifetime of supervised release. He will be sentenced by Judge McBryde on July 9.

Fernandes has been in federal custody since his arrest in mid-December on a related federal complaint. At the time he was a graduate student at University of Texas in Arlington, Texas.

According to plea documents filed, ICE agents visited the Fernandes residence in Arlington based on a lead from the German Federal Police (Bundeskriminalamt, or BKA) through the ICE Attaché office in Frankfurt, Germany. The lead concerned a target at the residence who was allowing access to child pornography via the Internet and peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing software. ICE agents examined the computer and related storage media belonging to Fernandes and discovered child pornography.

According to evidence presented at Fernandes' detention hearing in December, during the execution of the search warrant on Dec. 15, Fernandes initially voluntarily stated that he had never viewed or downloaded child pornography videos onto his personal computers. However, evidence was presented that more than 100 videos of child pornography were discovered on an external hard drive belonging to Fernandes.

Evidence at the detention hearing revealed that Fernandes tried to leave the United States the day after the search warrant was executed. Fernandes, a citizen of India who was present in the U.S. on a student visa, was removed by ICE agents from a plane, bound for Paris, France, that he had boarded at DFW airport. He had purchased the plane ticket after the execution of the search warrant. He admitted using the Internet to obtain child pornography and directed agents to the child pornography on his computer.

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 12,000 individuals.

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 http://www.cybertipline.com.

This case was also brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice, to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by U.S. Attorneys' offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), 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 to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov

The case is being investigated by ICE; it's being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex C. Lewis, Northern District of Texas.