The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) recognized the efforts of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) during its annual congressional breakfast May 7 in Washington, D.C.
The HSI members were among other law enforcement professionals honored by NCMEC for performing above and beyond the call of duty in safely recovering a missing child or successfully resolving a child sexual exploitation case. HSI personnel were recognized in two separate investigations.
In one case, Special Agents Jim Cole, Henry Cook, Dante Garrido and Chris Michocki; Supervisory Special Agent Adam Parks; and Intelligence Research Specialist Lauren Morris were recognized for their role in locating and recovering a 4-year-old girl who was being sexually exploited.
The case began Nov. 1, 2012, when HSI's Cyber Crimes Center (C3) was alerted to images depicting the abuse of the girl. The team reviewed the images for clues to identify the offender and discovered images in which tattoos on an adult male's hand and leg were visible as well as images of a woman with star tattoos on her inner elbows.
Investigators submitted images of the tattoos to the South Carolina Department of Corrections for comparison against tattoos noted on inmate booking forms and state corrections officials advised that Gerald Ennis Roberts, an inmate formerly incarcerated in the state, had the same tattoos.
Armed with a name, investigators were able to use social media to find his presence online and were also able to find the female with tattoos on her elbows. During her interview with authorities, she was able to identify both the offender and the child victim.
On Nov. 7, state authorities and HSI were able to locate and recover the child victim. The following day, authorities apprehended Gerald Roberts in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and obtained a full confession. Roberts subsequently pleaded guilty to production and distribution of child pornography and is currently awaiting sentencing.
In the other case, SA Melanie Moss was part of a team featuring members of the FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and U.S. Department of Justice's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section that brought down an international child sexual exploitation ring and recovered a child from sex trafficking.
The case started when a computer user identified as Edward Desear was discovered sharing child pornography online via a peer-to-peer network. A separate investigation into an international sexual predator network linked Desear to chats describing the abuse of a child. Following a search warrant, the 5-year-old child was placed in the custody of California Child Protective Services.
A third, concurrent investigation of a man named Donn Casper for the purchasing of child pornography online also resulted in the recovery of a child who was the victim of sexual exploitation. It also led to the subsequent arrest of another predator, John Rex Powell.
Investigators were able to use information from all three cases to tie together a ring of offenders that shared tens of thousands of illicit images via encrypted hard drives mailed through the US Postal Service.
In June 2013, Desear was sentenced to 40 years in prison and in December 2013, as part of the FBI's investigation, Desear pleaded guilty to Sex Trafficking of Children and Distribution of Child Pornography and was sentenced to 17years in prison. Desear also agreed to pay $1 million to the victim.
"Tireless effort and unwavering dedication to justice is what each of these men and women brought to the table when conducting these investigations," said Patrick Redling, unit chief for C3's Child Exploitation Investigations Unit. "When it comes to the rescuing of children from child predators, I can think of no greater force for good than all of the great personnel working here at HSI."
C3 is made up of the Cyber Crimes Unit, the Child Exploitation Investigations Unit and the Computer Forensics Unit. This state-of-the-art center offers cybercrime support and training to federal, state, local and international law enforcement agencies. C3 also operates a fully equipped computer forensics laboratory, which specializes in digital evidence recovery and offers training in computer investigative and forensic skills.
Learn more about C3 here.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is a nonprofit organization created in 1998 that works with law enforcement, families and the professionals on issues relating to missing and sexually exploited children. Authorized by Congress to serve as the nation's clearinghouse on these issues, NCMEC has assisted law enforcement in the recovery of more than 196,000 children and has received more than 2.4 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation.