TRENTON – Fourteen men have been arrested in an operation that targeted offenders in New Jersey who allegedly used a file-sharing network to download and distribute child pornography, including child rape videos, on the Internet, Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced today.
The acting attorney general announced the results of the joint state and federal operation called “Operation Predator Alert” at the Hughes Justice Complex in Trenton, with Director Elie Honig of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice and Special Agent in Charge Andrew M. McLees of the Newark Office of ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
The arrests, which were made from Sept. 30 to Oct. 24, mark the first major child pornography sweep conducted by the Attorney General’s Office in which defendants are charged under New Jersey’s strict new child pornography law. Thirteen of the men currently are charged with possession of child pornography under the new statute, and it is expected that most of them also will be prosecuted under the new statute for distribution of child pornography, if ongoing forensic examinations reveal there was child pornography in “shared folders” on their computers at time of arrest.
The new statute, signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie on Aug. 14, enhances the penalties for those who possess, distribute or manufacture child pornography. If convicted of distributing 25 or more computer files of child pornography under the new law, defendants would face a mandatory state prison sentence of five years without possibility of parole. In addition, any defendant found to have possessed 100 or more files of child pornography on his computer, will face a presumptive sentence of three to five years in state prison under the new law.
“Armed with New Jersey’s tough new child pornography law, we are coming down hard on offenders who, by sharing these vile materials, support and encourage the sexual predators who rape and abuse children to create them,” said Hoffman. “The claim that viewing child pornography online is a victimless crime is yet another affront to the victims whose images and cries can never be erased from the Internet. Each time we identify a viewer who has re-victimized children by taking perverse pleasure in their agony, we will seek justice for that crime.”
“By subjecting offenders to parole supervision for life under Megan’s Law, our new child pornography law recognizes that those who get sexual gratification from these abhorrent images pose a real danger to children,” said Honig. “Operation Predator Alert is aptly named because we are sounding the alarm about deviants who troll the Internet for images of children being raped and tortured.”
“Child predators rob children of their youth and innocence. One child victimized by a pedophile is one too many,” said Andrew M. McLees, Special Agent in Charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Newark. “This joint effort with the New Jersey Attorney General’s Division of Criminal Justice is a clear indication of HSI’s resolve to seek out those who sexually exploit innocent children.”
Beginning in June, special agents of the Cherry Hill Office of HSI monitored an online file-sharing network that is popular with offenders who download and trade child pornography. Using advanced technology, the agents searched for telltale digital “fingerprints” of known child pornography, as well as search terms used by those who download and share child pornography online. Through these and other methods, they identified New Jersey residents who were making child pornography, including child rape videos, available to others in “shared folders” on their computers.
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. Because many of these videos and photos of child pornography keep recirculating, they result in the perpetual re-victimization of the children who were sexually assaulted or abused to produce them.
Each of the arrested defendants allegedly was using Internet file-sharing software to make multiple files containing child pornography readily available for other users to download from a “shared folder” on his computer. Agents allegedly downloaded files containing child pornography from each defendant’s computer during the investigation. The files included videos showing pre-pubescent boys and girls being sexually penetrated or being coerced into performing sexual acts on themselves or others.
The Division of Criminal Justice obtained arrest and search warrants, which they executed with HSI beginning on Sept. 30. Numerous state, county and local law enforcement agencies assisted in executing the warrants. Those charged range in age from 24 to 66, and they come from all walks of life. For example, they include an engineer, a mail carrier, an auto mechanic, a master control operator for a local television network, a retiree, a supermarket customer service representative, and a fugitive wanted in Colorado on a charge of auto theft.
One man, Huahao “Howard” Chang, 30, of Somerset, was charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, because marijuana and a digital scale were seized from his residence. He is charged with tampering with evidence for allegedly throwing a computer down a stairwell in an attempt to destroy the hard drive during his arrest on Sept. 30. Another man, Mitchell Beard, 32, of Lower Township, allegedly had an illegal assault rifle in his bedroom. Both he and his twin brother, Jackson Beard, 32, who lives at the same address, were arrested on child pornography charges.
The charges stemming from Operation Predator Alert will be prosecuted by the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau, Computer Analysis and Technology Unit. As previously indicated, the defendants in Operation Predator Alert will be prosecuted under New Jersey’s new child pornography statute, signed into law by Governor Christie on Aug. 14. The new law increased the punishment for virtually all child pornography offenses and brought New Jersey law into much closer alignment with federal law.
The new law upgrades the charge of possession of child pornography from a fourth-degree offense to a third-degree offense, and it modifies the previously existing presumption against imprisonment for anyone with no prior felony conviction who is convicted of a third-degree offense. Under the new law, possession of 100 or more computer files of child pornography carries a presumption that the defendant will face a state prison term of between three to five years.
Distribution of child pornography remains a second-degree offense, carrying a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison, but the new law imposes a mandatory minimum period of parole ineligibility of five years for distribution of 25 or more computer files of child pornography. In cases of possession or distribution of child pornography, the prosecutor can ask the court to impose a sentence of parole supervision for life under Megan’s Law.
The new child pornography statute specifically takes aim at distribution cases involving file sharing. It imposes strict liability on Internet file sharers who make child pornography files available for immediate downloading. This strict liability provision places responsibility on the user for having child pornography in a file-sharing “shared folder” on his computer. Whether the user knew he was sharing, or whether any other user ever found or downloaded the file, is irrelevant. Thus, if a defendant is convicted of possessing 25 or more files of child pornography in a shared folder on his computer after Aug. 14, he would be subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of five years without parole.
Causing a child to engage in a prohibited sexual act for purposes of creating child pornography now is a first-degree crime for all persons, carrying a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison. Previously it was a first-degree crime only for parents or guardians of the child, and a second-degree crime for others. If convicted of that offense under the new law, an offender must serve 85 percent of the sentence without parole. No Predator Alert defendant is charged with that offense at this time, but the investigations are ongoing, including forensic examinations of computers and other evidence, including flash drives, memory cards, DVDs and cell phones, at the FBI’s Regional Computer Forensic Lab in Hamilton.
The following men were charged with possession of child pornography and distribution of child pornography: Huahao “Howard” Chang, 30, of Somerset; Jeffrey M. Mander, 25, of Bridgeton; Juan C. Alvarez, 33, of Egg Harbor; Mark V. Miller, 66, of Millville; Cristian Gonazalez-Araya, 33, of Trenton; Juan S. Montoya, 24, of Pennsauken; Mitchell Beard, 32, of Lower Township; Jackson Beard, 32, of Lower Township; James Hooker, 66, Eastampton; Francis “Frank” P. Gillice, 63, of Cape May Court House; Brian S. Bell, 40, of Woodstown; Celalleti “Steve” Koc, 25, of Hamilton (Mercer County); Cesar Urena-Valverde, 30, of Trenton; Jason Block, 33, of Wrightstown.
“We should all be proud of the growing and improving efforts of state and federal authorities to terminate child pornography in New Jersey,” said state Sen. Republican Whip Kevin O’Toole in a statement. “Perpetrators who think the Internet gives them a cloak of anonymity and an easier way to share and profit off of a sick fix must now think twice. With the arrest of these 14 men, predators are on notice: New Jersey now has some of the toughest laws and penalties for child pornography offenders.”
The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Because the charges are indictable offenses, they will be presented to a state grand jury for potential indictment.
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