ORLANDO, Fla. - U.S. Attorney A. Brian Albritton announced that the Middle District of Florida led the nation for fiscal year 2009 in cases charged as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative of the Department of Justice designed to protect children from online exploitation and abuse. Many of those prosecutions were the result of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) "Operation Predator" investigations.
Susan McCormick, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Tampa said, "Under ICE's Operation Predator we are committed to identifying, investigating and arresting child predators and sexual offenders. The numerous individuals that victimized children who have been ultimately prosecuted in the Middle District of Florida is a testament to the excellent working relationships with our law enforcement partners here in Florida. ICE will continue to join the Department of Justice and law enforcement agencies around the world to fight child exploitation crimes."
ICE's Operation Predator is a nationwide ICE initiative to identify, investigate and arrest those who prey on children, including human traffickers, international sex tourists, Internet pornographers, and foreign-national predators whose crimes make them deportable. Launched in July 2003, ICE agents have arrested almost 12,000 individuals through Operation Predator.
The Department of Justice's Project Safe Childhood began in May 2006. It marshals federal, state, and local resources to better locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, and to identify and rescue victims. In each of the 93 U.S. Attorney's Offices throughout the country, an Assistant U.S. Attorney serves as a Project Safe Childhood Coordinator, dedicated to training regarding prosecution of Project Safe Childhood cases.
From Oct. 1, 2008 through Sept. 30, 2009, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida, with the close assistance of ICE and numerous federal, state, and local agencies, brought 86 Project Safe Childhood cases - the most of any district in the country. The charges in those cases vary by defendant, but include conspiring to travel in interstate commerce to engage in illicit sexual conduct, producing child pornography, distributing and receiving child pornography, and possessing child pornography. During fiscal year 2009, Orlando was the seat of the Middle District of Florida's Project Safe Childhood Coordinator.
Project Safe Childhood cases in the Middle District of Florida are investigated by ICE, the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service (USSS), the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS), the Florida Attorney General's Child Predator CyberCrime Unit, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). The Brevard County Sheriff's Office, the Seminole County Sheriff's Office and the Kissimmee Police Department assisted investigating these cases.
U.S. Attorney A. Brian Albritton stated, "Prosecuting those who seek to harm and exploit children is a top priority for the United States Attorney's Office. I want to congratulate the outstanding team of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies that worked together to lead the nation in Project Safe Childhood cases. Since the creation of Project Safe Childhood, the Middle District of Florida has prosecuted more than 250 cases involving the exploitation of children. The 86 cases charged in fiscal year 2009 represent a continuation of my Office's commitment to bring cases that will serve to combat the increase in sexual predators using the Internet to entice and sexually exploit our children."
Following are case summaries of two related ICE investigations:
- Sean Peters, 49, of Orlando, Fla., was convicted by a jury on Oct. 16, 2009, of possessing child pornography. Peters had spent over 20 years in law enforcement, first as a uniformed police officer and then as an investigator in the State Attorney's Office for the Ninth Judicial Circuit. Peters resigned from the State's Attorney's Office in June 2007 when ICE special agents executed a search warrant on his home and seized a computer from his office and a CD found in a DVD player in his bedroom. An ICE forensic examination of the computer hard drive and the CD uncovered hundreds of images of child pornography. Peters faces a maximum of 10 years in federal prison at his sentencing on Jan. 15.
- Berne Schmidlkofer, 65, of Cocoa Beach, Fla., is a former teacher, who pleaded guilty to child pornography production and distribution. On April 29, 2009, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children sent a Cybertip to ICE and the Brevard County Sheriff's Office regarding distribution of child pornography. ICE special agents executed a state search warrant on June 19. ICE forensic examination of Schmidlkofer's computer and further investigation revealed that Schmidlkofer had victimized two children and that he had produced images of child pornography on Dec. 28 and 30, 2008 and Jan. 1, 2009, and that he distributed images of child pornography on April 11, 2009. On Aug. 24, 2009, Schmidlkofer pleaded guilty to producing and distributing child pornography. Schmidlkofer faces 15 to 30 years in federal prison for the production count and five to 20 years in federal prison for the distribution count at his sentencing on Feb. 9.
ICE encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-347-2423. 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.