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Child Exploitation

Houston man pleads guilty to possessing child pornography

HOUSTON — A local man pleaded guilty on Tuesday to one count of possessing child pornography, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas. U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal accepted the plea at an Oct. 25 hearing held in Houston. The investigation is being conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

The investigation on Armando Ruben Avila, 48, began when ICE HSI agents received information regarding a commercial child pornography website. Agents determined that the company is a pay-for-access commercial website that offers child pornography in various media formats, including still images, and VHS and DVD videos. Membership to this website is paid for by sending a Western Union money gram to individuals in Russia. Agents traced one of the money grams to Avila.

ICE HSI agents executed a federal search warrant at Avila's Houston residence on Oct. 14, 2009. Agents seized an HP Pavilion desktop computer and a Toshiba laptop. Avila admitted to searching and downloading child pornography on the Internet. A forensic analysis of the computers resulted in discovering at least 4,000 images and 50 videos of child pornography. Some of the images depicted prepubescent girls engaging in sexual intercourse and oral sex with adult males.

Avila was arrested in June. He was released on bond and was allowed to remain on bond pending his sentencing hearing, which is set for January.

Avila faces a sentence of up to 10 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $250,000 as possible punishment. After he completes any prison term imposed, Avila also faces a maximum of life on supervised release during which the court can impose a number of special conditions designed to protect children and prohibit the use of the Internet.

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.

ICE encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE or 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 and Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, at 1-800-843-5678 or http://www.cybertipline.com.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Stabe, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting the case.