BRUNSWICK, Ga. – A Georgia man arrested as part of a nationwide operation targeting child predators pleaded guilty Tuesday to three counts of sexual exploitation of a minor in relation to the production of child pornography. The guilty plea resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with assistance from Interpol, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Field Operations, CBP Air and Marine Operations, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and the Liberty County Sheriff's Office.
Stephen Keating, 52, of Jesup, also pleaded guilty to one count of distribution of child pornography. Evidence presented at the guilty plea hearing showed that on numerous occasions in 2010 and 2011, Keating sexually molested three minor children in order to create pictures and videos of that conduct. Keating then distributed a number of the images, which were discovered in September 2012 during the arrest of a sex offender in Denmark.
United States Attorney Edward J. Tarver said, "No child should be subjected to sexual abuse and, certainly, no child should have to live with the knowledge that the abuse was captured on film for redistribution to other like-minded predators. This defendant exploited the most vulnerable members of our society, our children. Swift, aggressive prosecution of child predators is the highest priority for the Department of Justice and this United States Attorney's Office."
"To victimize the innocent in the manner that this child predator has pleaded guilty to is one of the most revolting crimes in our society," said Brock D. Nicholson, special agent in charge of HSI Atlanta. "HSI special agents will not rest until each and every child victim of sexual exploitation is rescued and predators like Keating are behind bars."
Keating's case was part of Operation Sunflower, a November 2012 national operation aimed at rescuing victims and targeting individuals who own, trade and produce images of child pornography. His three victims were among the 44 children directly rescued as part of the operation.
Each count of sexual exploitation of a minor to which Keating pleaded guilty carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison and a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. Keating also faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years in prison and a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for distribution of child pornography.
This investigation was also part of Operation Predator, a nationwide HSI 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. HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-347-2423 or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators.
Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-843-5678.
HSI is a founding member and current chair of the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies and private industry sector partners working together to prevent and deter online child sexual abuse.