By Briana Vannozzi
It’s in this nondescript, tucked-away forensics lab that investigators used cutting-edge software to trace and track a ring of 16 men who are believed to have been distributing child pornography throughout the state.
“We’re able to identify the computers that are serving as a source and distribution and then go to the users and get those defendants,” said Acting Attorney General Robert Lougy.
It took the combined efforts of the Division of Criminal Justice, State Police and Homeland Security Investigations to complete the sweep. But a lot of credit is being given to this newly created lab and special training that keeps investigators ahead of the curve.
“We take the actual computer, whatever it is, laptop, bring it back to this lab and we do what’s called a forensics lab, and we do the same as forensics in a murder or ballistics case. These guys know how to tap in, they can recover deleted items, they can see the full extent of what’s on there,” said New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice Director Elie Honig.
The 16 defendants range in age from 16 to 72 and come from all walks of life. Most notably, a fifth grade teacher from Vineland who allegedly had over 100 files of child pornography on his personal computer. And a bus driver for the Sparta school system who authorities say viewed the vile videos during his breaks.
“The file sharing networks used by these offenders to distribute child pornography operated much the same way as file sharing networks used for music or other video. Like popular songs or YouTube clips, these videos and images of child pornography keep recirculating among these networks resulting in the perpetual re-victimization,” Lougy said.
Investigators say they monitored the networks for months looking for tell tale “fingerprints” to trace the computers to a physical address.
“Since HSI started Operation Predator, our flagship initiative to target child predators in 2003, Homeland Security Investigation special agents have arrested more than 14,000 predators nationwide with more than 300 predators here in New Jersey,” said HSI Cherry Hill Resident Agent in Charge, ICE Richard Reinhold.
None of the children involved were New Jersey residents. It’s believed these videos have been circulating for some time. All of the defendants were jailed and charged with distribution and possession — counts that carry sentences of up to five and 10 years each.
Under New Jersey statute, the men will also be subject to Megan’s Law, meaning that if convicted, their names will be added to the national public sex offender registry.
The message today from Acting Attorney General Lougy — everyone must remain vigilant in closely monitoring who their children are interacting with, both in person and online.