Newark, New Jersey - Sixteen defendants were arrested for using an online file-sharing network to download and distribute child pornography following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice.

“Distribution of child pornography steals the innocence of children and destroys lives,” said Terence S. Opiola, special agent in charge of HSI Newark. “HSI special agents will continue to work tirelessly with our state and local partners in operations like this one to track down the perpetrators of these terrible crimes and ensure that they face prosecution.”

“These defendants come from all walks of life, but they allegedly share a depraved desire to see children being raped and sexually exploited,” said Robert Lougy, acting attorney general for the State of New Jersey. “By viewing and distributing child pornography, particularly the child rape videos targeted in this operation, these offenders directly motivate and put themselves in league with the predators who torture children to create these repulsive materials.  Through sweeps like Operation Safeguard, we send a powerful message that these are very serious crimes and we are determined to put those who commit them behind bars.”

“By sharing and recirculating videos of child pornography, these offenders perpetually re-victimize the innocent children who are sexually assaulted to produce them,” said Elie Honig, director of the Division of Criminal Justice.  “With these operations, we’re putting child pornography users on notice that we have infiltrated their file-sharing networks and chat rooms, and we will trace these crimes right to their doors.” 

The 16 defendants range in age from 17 to 72 with the youngest victim being only 8 months. All of them are charged under New Jersey’s strict 2013 child pornography statute, which enhanced the penalties for those who possess, distribute or manufacture child pornography.

According to court documents, HSI agents and detectives of the Division of Criminal Justice and New Jersey State Police monitored several online file-sharing networks that are popular with offenders who download and trade child pornography.  Using advanced technology, the investigators searched for telltale digital “fingerprints” of known child pornography, as well as search terms used by those who download and share child pornography.  Through these and other methods, they identified New Jersey residents who were downloading child pornography and making child pornography available to others in “shared folders” on their computers.  The files included videos showing pre-pubescent boys and girls being raped or being coerced into performing sexual acts on themselves or others.  The file-sharing networks used by offenders to distribute child pornography operate in the same manner as websites used for privately sharing music or movies.  Those in possession of the illegal images can make them available on computers that they control for others to download.

If convicted of distributing 25 or more computer files of child pornography – which includes simply having that number of files in a shared folder on their computers, available for other users to download – the defendants will face a mandatory state prison sentence of five years without possibility of parole.  Any defendant found to have possessed 100 or more files of child pornography on their computer will face a presumptive sentence of three to five years in prison.

The New Jersey State Police along with multiple county and local police departments assisted in the investigation.

The charges and allegations contained in the complaints are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

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 14,000 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 2015, nearly 2,400 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.

For additional information about wanted suspected child predators, download HSI’s Operation Predator smartphone app or visit the online suspect alerts page.