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Child Exploitation

Special education teacher charged in ICE Internet child pornography probe

SAN DIEGO - A 42-year-old special education teacher at a county juvenile probation camp school made his initial appearance in federal court here today on charges stemming from an ongoing national probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) into an Internet child pornography distribution scheme.

Edgardo Vilas was arrested by ICE agents Friday after a search of his Descanso, Calif., home turned up DVDs containing child pornography and printed images of child pornography that Vilas admitted downloading off the Internet. Agents seized Vilas' desktop computer, other computer devices and software.

Vilas is employed as a special education teacher at the Rancho Del Campo education facility in Descanso, an all boys county detention camp for juvenile offenders, where he has worked for the last year and a half.

A federal court judge ordered Vilas to remain in custody at his initial court appearance yesterday. The government sought his continued detention based upon the possible danger to the community. Vilas' next court hearing is scheduled for Jan. 17, 2008.

"This case is a clear reminder of ICE's resolve to search out predators who use the Internet to sexually exploit innocent children," said Miguel Unzueta, special agent in charge for the ICE office of investigations in San Diego. "This case is particularly troubling because of the suspect's position as someone who young people looked up to and respected."

This investigation leading to Vilas' arrest was carried out under the auspices of ICE's Operation Predator and the U.S. Department of Justice's Project Safe Childhood. The initiatives are a joint effort by federal, state and local law enforcement, along with community leaders, to protect children from online exploitation and abuse. Led by the U.S. Attorneys Offices, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov.

Since Operation Predator was launched in July 2003, ICE agents have arrested more than 10,700 individuals, including more than 2,300 in California. The public is encouraged to report suspected child predators and suspicious activity through the following channels - ICE's 24-hour toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE; and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, at 1-800-843-5678 or http://www.cybertipline.com.