Michael Peterson, 58, was taken into custody at his residence by agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). Peterson is charged in a three-count criminal complaint with possessing, receiving and distributing child pornography. In July, ICE HSI agents executed a search warrant at Peterson's home and seized several computer hard drives and a laptop computer. A forensic analysis of those devices revealed more than 500,000 images and 7,500 videos of suspected child pornography. Peterson initially came under suspicion based on a lead obtained during an undercover investigation by Delaware-based HSI agents targeting a peer-to-peer file sharing network.
"Child exploitation crimes victimize the most vulnerable members of our society," said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. "The victimization of children for sexual purposes is one of the most heinous crimes imaginable, and that is why prosecuting child predators is one of the top priorities of the Justice Department."
Debra Parker, the assistant special agent in charge for ICE HSI in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, stated: "Every time these illegal images are produced, transmitted or viewed, a child is victimized. We owe it to the young victims in these cases to pursue the offenders aggressively, since many of the children who are sexually exploited by those who produce child pornography will bear the emotional scars for rest of their lives."
Another man arrested Friday morning was David Christopher Jelaca, a 37-year-old registered nurse from La Quinta, Calif. Jelaca is charged in a criminal complaint with distribution of child pornography, attempted distribution of child pornography to a minor, possession of child pornography, and enticement of a minor for illegal sexual purposes. Agents from the Imperial Valley Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, which includes HSI, began investigating Jelaca after he posted an advertisement on Craigslist soliciting a "Dirty Daddy who likes to share his daughter's dirty panties." In email exchanges with undercover Task Force agents, Jaleca acknowledged having had sexual contact with girls as young as 15 and fantasizing about sexual relations with girls as young as 12. Subsequently, agents searched Jelaca's home, seizing computers and related media that were found to contain more than 26,000 still images and 55 movie files of suspected child pornography.
The six other defendants arrested are:
- Alexander Scott Branson, 25, of Upland, Calif., who was indicted for receiving and possessing child pornography;
- Ronald Sousa, 67, of Cathedral City, Calif., who was indicted for possessing and distributing child pornography;
- Bolivar Arnoldo Guillen, 59, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., who is charged in a criminal complaint with possession of child pornography;
- Ronald R. Jaenson, 66, of Colton, Calif., who is charged in a criminal complaint with possession of child pornography;
- John Anthony Serrano, 37, of Barstow, Calif., who is charged in a criminal complaint with receiving, possessing, and distributing child pornography; and
- Anthony Starkweather, 20, of Mentone, Calif., who is charged in a criminal complaint with receiving, possessing, and distributing child pornography.
All eight defendants are scheduled to make their initial court appearances Friday afternoon in United States District Court in Riverside.
A ninth man was also arrested last week as part of the federal child exploitation crackdown. Enrique Garcia, 26, of Hemet, was arrested by FBI agents last Wednesday after being indicted by a federal grand jury for possessing and distributing child pornography. During an initial appearance in United States District Court in Riverside last Thursday, Garcia was freed on bond and ordered to appear for an arraignment in federal court in Los Angeles on December 5.
The charge of possession of child pornography carries a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison. The charges of distribution of child pornography and receipt of child pornography each carry a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison and a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years.
These cases are part of the Department of Justice's Project Safe Childhood, which brings together federal, state and local law enforcement authorities to locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children using the Internet. For additional information on the PSC initiative, go to www.projectsafechildhood.gov.
The investigations conducted by ICE are part of the agency's Operation Predator, a nationwide initiative to identify, investigate and arrest those who sexually exploit children. As part of Operation Predator, ICE encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-347-2423.
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.