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Child Exploitation

Missouri man pleads guilty to receiving child pornography

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A local man, who attempted to destroy the evidence against him by burning memory cards and breaking CDs, pleaded guilty in federal court on Monday to receiving child pornography over the Internet. The guilty plea resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Travis S. Cook, 37, of Kansas City, waived his right to a grand jury and pleaded guilty in the Western District of Missouri to charges of receiving child pornography over the Internet.

In February 2008, ICE agents began investigating an Internet forum dedicated to distributing child pornography. According to the plea agreement, Cook was a member of the forum and posted comments such as, "I wish that 11-year-old girls could work at strip clubs."

ICE agents visited Cook at his apartment on March 13, 2009. Cook refused to talk to the agents and would not allow them to look at his laptop or enter his apartment. The ICE agents then proceeded downstairs to make a phone call to ask about obtaining a search warrant. One of the agents returned to Cook's apartment to ensure that he did not leave the apartment with the laptop.

Upon entering the hallway outside Cook's apartment, the ICE agent heard popping sounds as though CDs were breaking in half, and other sounds consistent with items being destroyed, coming from inside Cook's apartment. The agent repeatedly knocked at Cook's door and asked him to open the door, but Cook did not respond. The agent found a maintenance man for the apartment complex who opened the door to Cook's apartment.

ICE agents noticed numerous papers and CD ROM disks strewn about the floor of the apartment and saw that the laptop's monitor had been torn off its hinges. One agent noticed something burning in a skillet on the stove, which turned out to be the laptop's memory card.

ICE agents seized 59 CDs and 13 DVDs containing images and movies of child pornography from Cook's apartment. Also seized was a small black backpack from a bathroom closet that contained about 70 destroyed CD ROM disks; some of those disks contained handwritten notations of common child pornography series. The backpack also contained ripped up printed images of child pornography and ripped up printed pages of erotic stories of sex with children.

Investigators also found evidence of child pornography on Cook's laptop computer, including thousands of images of children in swim suits, leotards and underwear, as well as evidence that child pornography movies and images were recently accessed on the computer.

ICE agents also executed a search warrant at the Lee's Summit, Mo., home of Cook's father, who told them that Cook occasionally used their computer. Investigators found images and videos of child pornography on that computer, as well as evidence that Cook unsuccessfully attempted to purchase a subscription to a child pornography Web site because his credit card was rejected.

By pleading guilty, Cook also agreed to forfeit to the government the laptop computer that was used to commit the offense. He faces a minimum of five years and up to 20 years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $250,000 and an order of restitution. Assistant U.S. Attorney Beth Phillips, Western District of Missouri, is prosecuting the case.

"Anyone who sexually exploits children will learn that ICE and our law enforcement partners will hold them accountable for their despicable actions," said Gilbert Trill, assistant special agent-in-charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Kansas City. "Our ICE agents work tirelessly to investigate child predators that victimize the most vulnerable members of our society."

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. Since Operation Predator was launched in July 2003, ICE agents have arrested more than 12,000 individuals.

ICE encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE. 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.