A five-week federal sting operation netted 255 suspected child sex predators - including 39 from California and at least three from the Bay Area - and identified dozens of victims. A total of 61 children were rescued as part of an old crime with a new name, "sextortion."
Some of the alleged predators are teachers and priests, officials said.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and Internet Crimes Against Children task forces throughout the country and U.S. territories conducted the Operation iGuardian sting From May 28 through June 30. They announced the arrests on Monday morning.
ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice told NBC Bay Area that the three suspects from the Bay Area are:
- Shawhan Shams, 23, of Petaluma. Arrested on state charges June 12 by the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department and HSI special agents.
- Paul Vella, 59, of Morgan Hill. Arrested June 4 on federal charges for receiving and distributing child pornography;
- John Barrett, 64, of Novato. Arrested June 11 on federal charges for possession and receipt of child pornography.
RAW VIDEO: Operation iGuardian Sting in Maryland
The massive operation to identify and rescue sexually exploited children found 61 children exploited – some by pictures and videos posted online, others abused by direct physical contact. Many of the victims were blackmailed into sending explicit photos to the predator, part of a “disturbing trend” in which predators increasingly use the Internet to get children to produce and share such material, investigators said. That phenonmenon is known as "sextortion."
“We are in the midst of a very, very serious fight against child abusers and pornographers,” ICE Director John Morton said at a news conference in Maryland. “These 255 arrests are an important blow in the fight, but we need everyone’s help.”
In addition to chatting online with minors about sex and encouraging the children to send explicit images and video, predators also attempted to set up meetings for sex.
Four of the identified victims were under the age of 3, five were ages 4 to 6, 13 were 7 to9, ten were 10 to 12, 23 were 13 to15 and six were 16 to17. A total of 42 were girls and 19 were boys.
Of those arrested, 244 were in the United States, nine were teachers and three were clergy. Four suspects are women, and 251 are men. Four people were arrested in Virginia.
Maryland’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force assisted federal authorities in the operation.
“Thanks to the essential support of our federal partners and the dedicated efforts of our task force members, Maryland’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force has had a significant impact on our fight against the Internet exploitation of children,” Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. Marcus L. Brown said in a statement on Monday. “Since 2000, Maryland’s task force has been responsible for 526 arrests of men and women who were attempting to victimize our most vulnerable citizens – our children. I applaud the dedicated members of the 61 task forces across our nation, who daily work together in cyberspace tracking down those who prey on our children.”
Authorities highlighted three significant arrests:
Jimmy Caraballo-Colon, 25, a former high school cheerleading coach and athlete from Caguas, Puerto Rico, was arrested June 4 by the HSI Puerto Rico Crimes Against Children Task Force (PRCACTF) after it was discovered by the Greenwood Village Police Department in Colorado that he was blackmailing a 17-year-old girl he met online in an anonymous Internet video chat website. Through the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, investigators identified a second victim, a 15-year-old girl in California. Further investigation led to another 15-year-old girl in the Netherlands, and leads are currently being pursued regarding two 15 and 16-year-old girls in Australia. Investigators believe there are more than 80 potential victims who remain unidentified.
John David Boyle, 49, a former middle school teacher from Glendora, Calif., was arrested June 5, during an undercover sting operation in his classroom, by HSI Los Angeles and the multi-agency ICAC. Boyle has been indicted and charged with enticement of a minor to engage in sexual activity over the Internet. He has also been charged with advertisement of online child pornography, as well as distribution, receipt and attempted receipt and possession of child pornography. Believing the undercover investigator shared his sexual interest in young boys, Boyle allegedly set up an in-person meeting in his middle school classroom for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity while watching child pornography. Investigators have identified a 14-year-old boy who was a victim of sexual contact with the defendant and believe that there are additional victims in this ongoing case.
Eduardo Arturo Romero Barrios, a Mexican national, 33, was arrested June 26, by the Mexican Attorney General’s Office with the assistance of the Mexican Federal Police in Monterrey, Mexico. The arrest followed a lead by HSI Mexico City and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children from a social media provider about a user who was pretending to be a young teenage girl in order to elicit provocative images from minors via the social networking site. Romero Barrios was then extorting the minors to provide more sexually explicit material by threatening to expose the images he had acquired from them throughout the Internet. Investigators – with the assistance of HSI Little Rock and the Arkansas Area 4 ICAC – have identified two victims, boys ages 11 and 13 in Arkansas, and are pursuing leads into at least three other children: a 10-year old Kentucky girl, and two others in Australia and the Ukraine. Investigators believe there are other potential victims who Barrios may have exploited.
In fiscal year 2013, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations has arrested 1,674 suspected child predators. Over the past 10 years, operations like iGuardian have helped authorities arrest 10,000 people.