A New York City area police chief, a rabbi and a Boy Scout leader are among the seventy people arrested today on charges of swapping child pornography. Federal officials are calling the bust one of the largest in the metro area.
Those picked up included a woman who involved her child in the making and distribution of child pornography. One man who used hidden cameras to secretly spy on his children’s friends and still another with previous convictions for sexually abusing a child.
The arrests came following a five week investigation by federal authorities. Seized in the sweep were 600 computers, tablets and smartphones. A total of 175 terabytes of storage was represented by the devices collected. According to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Investigators, some of the individuals arrested had libraries with thousands of images and videos of children.
Officials laid out the tools used by the suspects in the acquisition of the sexually explicit materials. Twenty-two hard drives, 5 tablets, 7 discs and a laptop were displayed as evidence on a long table during a press conference. A map with dots revealed the suspects stretched not only all over the state, but branched into parts of New Jersey as well. Near the table was a large poster showing photos, names and jobs of five of the men arrested.
Child pornographers have a driving desire to trade videos and images like others trade baseball cards. The more graphic a particular image is, the more it gets traded and passed around. Following the trail of traded porn leads investigators from one defendant to another which, in turn, leads to still others.
This particular case started with the police chief and a rabbi who had been utilizing peer-to-peer file sharing methods and programs to share and trade the images. In January, law enforcement officers arrested Brian Fanelli, former police chief of Mount Pleasant, NY. He pled not guilty to federal charges of receiving and distribution of child porn.
As police chief, Fanelli, 54, had taught awareness classes to elementary and middle school students about the dangers of sexual abuse. Claiming that he began looking at child porn as “research” for the classes, Fanelli told investigators that it grew into an obsession. Fanelli had 126 videos and photos of children as young as 7 on two of his computers. Depending on the final charges, the 70 people arrested could face sentences from a few decades to life in prison.
Arkady Bukh, noted New York Criminal Lawyer, who represented Maksym Shynkarenko, one of the early child porn moguls, is familiar with the laws surrounding child pornography. Bukh says, “Child porn is one crime that the Feds are not going to let a suspect cooperate for a significant sentence reduction. Many times, even a person that was a “consumer,” and not a “producer” of child porn gets several decades behind bars. Backed with these convicted witnesses, the “producer” is looking at several life sentences in the beginning of his judicial journey and prays to get out of prison while he is still alive.”
Fanelli was caught by investigators using software which identifies addresses of computers that have downloaded child pornography. In Fanelli’s case, agents used the software to pair him to a computer that had shared sexually graphic photos and videos of children.
In March, agents nabbed Samuel Waldman, Brooklyn rabbi and instructor at a girls’ seminary. Court documents revealed that Waldman had at least three videos on his computer. With the positions of trust held by the two men, officials geared up their investigations to other pornographers the two men may have been in touch with.
Following Waldman’s arrest, the floodgate of charges and arrested opened in April and May. Included in the arrests were several which held high-profile positions in their towns. All together, investigators busted people in all five boroughs and the areas to the north of the city. People in Long Island and New Jersey were nabbed as well.
Investigators are still looking at the devices to gather evidence. A spokesman for Homeland Security said more arrests could result. Agents are coordinating the effort with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children which will review the images to see if the databases contain images of missing children.
By Jerry Nelson