ICE Tackles Rise in Valley Child Pornography Cases
WESLACO – Child pornography cases are on the rise in the Rio Grande Valley, according to Homeland Security Investigations.
Inside the room where agents search and analyze confiscated computers and other technologies, the computer forensics lab shelves are stocked with laptops, hard drives and other devices.
Once these items are confiscated, investigators have a case in proving the person behind the screen played a role in child pornography distribution.
Computer Forensics Examiners with HSI dismantle evidence to piece together a criminal case.
“One of the first things that I’ll do when I sit down with an investigator from an outside agency is fill out an examination sheet and ask that investigator exactly what it is that he's looking for,” says one of the investigators with HSI.
The dialogue between agents creates clarity as to what they are looking to find on the device.
By the time the device finds its way to the computer forensic lab, agents have been monitoring the criminals for some time, documenting every child pornography download made to an I.P. address.
Record of every single file downloaded is used as evidence. However, it doesn't take several downloads to catch a criminal.
”One time is all it takes and one time is all it takes to ruin the life of an innocent little boy or little girl,” says Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz.
With data in hand, such as a picture or video, agents look to save the victims.
This was a case of child pornography at a daycare in Corpus Christi.
A Valley man convinced a subject to take pictures of the children for child pornography distribution. Agents found the victim with just a picture.
“Just by looking at those numbers, you look at the last four the t-shirt that boy is wearing, it's actually the last three of the daycare facility,” says Eddie Hurtado, Commander of the RGV Child Exploitation Investigations Task Force.
White numbers outlined on a red t-shirt helped the agents track the child.
They used several methods to hone in on their subject. Investigators pinned their guy, but that wasn’t the end of it.
“The enforcement part, the investigation and the arrest, is just the beginning. You have to have strong prosecution to bring it to an end,” says Saenz.
Saenz wants those looking to take advantage of children on the dark web to know his office and federal agents are watching.
A sentence could start at 15 years in jail.
More than ever, Saenz is pushing stiff sentences because agents at the computer forensics lab are handling an increasing number of cases.
A computer forensics examiner says he averages 500 local cases a year – that's more than a predator a day in the area lurking the web for child pornography.
Federal, state and local law enforcement is looking to crack down on the rise in cases.
The task force is expanding its operation in Hidalgo County.
Investigators say they already have radar on several child predators in that area.
The Child Exploitation Investigations Task Force provided the following statistics listed below:
- 61 child victims identified/rescued
- 40 search warrants executed
- 47 criminal arrests
- 37 criminal indictments
- 22 convictions
- Over 25,151 case hours associated to RGV CEITF Investigations
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