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April 3, 2012Los Angeles, CA, United StatesChild Exploitation

Ventura County man latest suspect arrested in probe of national pedophile ring

18 charged, 20 underage victims identified so far in case that began in California

LOS ANGELES — A California man and a second defendant in New Jersey were taken into custody Tuesday morning on federal child pornography charges, the latest development in a multi-agency probe targeting a far-reaching pedophile ring that began with the arrest of a recreational youth soccer coach in California and has resulted in the indictment of 18 defendants on federal and local charges in more than a dozen states.

Brandon Thurman, 28, of Oxnard, Calif., and David Charles Wilkie, 53, of Jersey City, N.J., were arrested early Tuesday on charges contained in a 10-count indictment handed down by a federal grand jury in Santa Ana March 28. The defendants are charged with a total of 10 counts related to the transportation, receipt and possession of child pornography. Collectively, the violations carry a potential maximum penalty of 100 years for Wilkie and 110 years for Thurman. Thurman, who used the screen name "HappyOne," is expected to make his initial appearance Tuesday afternoon in federal court in Los Angeles. Wilkie, whose screen name was "DemonDaddy," will make his initial appearance in federal court in Newark, New Jersey. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California.

"In today's society, sexual predators who target our children are not simply a matter of local interest, they are a matter of serious national concern," said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. "These arrests demonstrate that federal and local agencies across the country will work together to protect America's most valuable resource, our children, and that we will use all available tools and technology to bring violators to justice."

The arrests are the latest development in an ongoing investigation, spearheaded by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); the Orange County Sheriff's Department; the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; and the Orange County District Attorney's Office, into a loose-knit group of men in at least 14 states suspected of trading sexually explicit images of underage males. Many of the images recovered during the probe were produced by the defendants. To date, investigators have identified and rescued 20 juveniles depicted in those materials.

"Those who trade child pornography over the Internet mistakenly believe the anonymity of the Internet shields them from detection," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles. "But as this case clearly shows, cyberspace is not a refuge from justice. In fact, the technology perpetrators use to exchange these illicit materials has given us new ways to track their activities. HSI will continue to work with its law enforcement partners here and around the world to target those who prey on the children in our communities."

"I am proud of the outstanding work the Orange County Sheriff's Department did on this case and our investigators will continue to do whatever is necessary to keep child pornography out of our county and those who view it away from our children," said Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens.

The probe began in 2008 after the Orange County Sheriff's Department received a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children regarding a 13-year-old boy in Arizona who was receiving sexually suggestive texts from a person in Lake Forest, Calif. That individual was ultimately identified as George Harcourt Bull, 61, a recreational youth soccer coach and former substitute teacher for special needs students. In August 2008, investigators questioned Bull and seized his computer. A forensic analysis of that computer revealed hundreds of images of child pornography and evidence that led to the identification of additional suspects. Bull was convicted of transporting child pornography and sentenced in April 2011 to 14 years in federal prison.

"Postal inspectors have a long history of aggressively investigating the predators who attempt to sexually exploit children through the use of the mail," said B. Bernard Ferguson, inspector in charge for the Los Angeles Division. "The USPIS is committed to working with law enforcement partners to identify and arrest suspects, no matter what means or methods they utilize."

During the probe, investigators determined many of the case targets were communicating and trading child pornography using a chat portal on a website called "Six4kids." According to the site, which has since been taken down, its purpose was "providing links and ideas for people to get involved to help stop the pain, the suffering, the confusion of the world's children."

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.