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Child Exploitation

New Jersey man pleads guilty to child pornography charges

PHILADELPHIA — A New Jersey man pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges of producing and possessing child pornography, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Patrick Mergen, 40, of Sewell, N.J., pleaded guilty Wednesday. He, along with Laura Shauger, was arrested Sept. 13 by HSI special agents on charges of manufacturing, distributing, receiving and possessing child pornography.

According to the investigation, Mergen and Shauger shared sexually explicit photos of a minor child at Mergen's request. Mergen and Shauger were both identified after HSI special agents received a lead from the Victoria, Australia, police indicating that Mergen was trading child pornography with a pedophile in Australia. HSI special agents conducted a search of digital media devices belonging to Mergen, which confirmed the findings. Mergen was also in possession of additional child pornography.

At sentencing, which is set for March 11, 2013, Mergen faces up to 50 years in federal prison.

"Child pornography is the indelible record of a child being sexually exploited," said John Kelleghan, special agent in charge of HSI Philadelphia. "These children are endlessly victimized every time those images are transmitted, downloaded, shared or viewed. HSI will continue to aggressively target child predators who are involved in any form of perpetuating these heinous crimes."

This investigation is part of Operation Predator, a nationwide HSI 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. HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing 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 & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST.

HSI is a founding member and the U.S. representative of the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies and private industry sector partners working together to prevent and deter online child sexual abuse.