AMARILLO, Texas — A man from the Texas panhandle pleaded guilty Monday to one count of attempted transfer of obscene material to a minor.
This guilty plea was announced by Acting U.S. Attorney John Parker, Northern District of Texas. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Amarillo Police Department investigated this case.
Bassam Arif Al Zarkani, 33, of Dumas, Texas, who has been in custody since his arrest on a related state charge in April, faces a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. A sentencing date was not set during his hearing before U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson.
According to documents filed in the case, on about April 14, Al Zarkani sent a “friend request” to an undercover officer’s Facebook account; the undercover officer accepted that request. Al Zarkani and the undercover officer exchanged messages. In response to Al Zarkani’s inquiry, the undercover officer responded, “single…no kids thank god…im 15.”
The conversation turned sexual in nature and Al Zarkani sent the undercover officer a sexually explicit photo of himself. For almost two weeks Al Zarkani and the undercover officer, whom Al Zarkani believed was a 15-year-old girl, sent private messages to each other through Facebook. During the conversations, Al Zarkani warned the undercover officer to keep him a secret from her dad and not tell anyone about him until she is 18 years old. On April 28, a meeting site was established. Al Zarkani traveled from Dumas to Amarillo, Texas, to meet the girl. He was arrested when he arrived at the meeting location.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Frausto, Northern District of Texas, is in charge of the prosecution.
This investigation was conducted under HSI’s Operation Predator, an international initiative to protect children from sexual predators. Since the launch of Operation Predator in 2003, HSI has arrested more than 12,000 individuals for crimes against children, including the production and distribution of online child pornography, traveling overseas for sex with minors, and sex trafficking of children. In fiscal year 2014, more than 2,300 individuals were arrested by HSI special agents under this initiative and more than 1,000 victims identified or rescued.
HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators. From outside the U.S. and Canada, callers should dial 802-872-6199. Hearing impaired users can call TTY 802-872-6196. 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 current chair 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.