U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), in collaboration with Brazil Ministry of Justice and Public Security (MJSP) Secretariat for Integrated Operations (SEOPI) Cyber Laboratory, executed phase eight of Operation Protected Childhood (OPC) resulting in the arrest of approximately 88 alleged child predators. This large-scale simultaneous enforcement action was executed between June 8 and June 11.
“This operation is a collaborative effort by HSI and our foreign law enforcement partners that resulted in removing child predators from our streets,” said ICE Attaché Robert Fuentes Jr. “Thank you to our Brazilian partners for your unwavering efforts over the last six years to combat child exploitation through Operation Protected Childhood. And to our growing international and domestic partnerships, we thank you for all your hard work in putting these perpetrators behind bars and keeping children safe.”
Operation Protected Childhood 8 targeted the distributors and producers of child sexual abuse material throughout the Americas. The Operation was conducted in coordination with multiple HSI domestic offices, the HSI Cyber Crimes Center (C3) Child Exploitation Investigations Unit (CEIU), and international law enforcement coordination with the governments of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Panama, and Ecuador through the respective HSI Attaché offices in Brasilia, Buenos Aires, Panama City, and Quito.
OPC was initiated in March 2015 by HSI Brasilia in partnership with Brazil’s MJSP Cyber Lab to increase the effectiveness of online child exploitation investigations. These efforts are a product of HSI’s continued investment in building partner capacity in Brazil. Since 2015, HSI and their partners have launched multiple phases of OPC and have recently expanded the operation to a larger multinational enforcement action.
During OPC 8, HSI offices in North Carolina, New York, Texas, Missouri, California, Michigan, and Kentucky executed a combined six child exploitation-related search warrants and made four arrests for child exploitation offenses. These executions were simultaneous with the enforcement actions made by Brazilian authorities and international law enforcement partners in Argentina, Paraguay, Panama and Ecuador with the support of our HSI presence overseas. A sample of HSI domestic enforcement actions as part of OPC 8 include:
- HSI Raleigh: On June 8, HSI and the Cary Police Department (CPD) executed a state search warrant for receipt/distribution of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) at a residence. The CPD received a Cybertip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) regarding an IP address that was trading CSAM via Kik. On June 9, HSI arrested an individual for possession of CSAM and separately arrested another individual for transportation and possession of CSAM.
- HSI McAllen: The HSI Rio Grande Valley Child Exploitation Task Force, along with local and federal agencies executed a federal arrest warrant on a suspect wanted for the production, transportation, and possession of CSAM. The suspect was arrested at his residence. During the arrest, HSI discovered one firearm, ammunition, a computer hard drive. The individual arrested is an unlawfully present citizen of Mexico and a previously convicted sex offender with two outstanding arrest warrants.
- HSI Detroit: On June 8, HSI Detroit executed a search warrant for distribution of CSAM. During the execution of this warrant, the suspect agreed to an interview and admitted to using the application Kik to send and receive CSAM involving children as young as infants. Five electronic items were seized from the suspect’s address following the search warrant. A forensic preview the laptop revealed the presence of CSAM.
- HSI Buffalo: On June 9, an individual was arrested by HSI Buffalo for violations of distribution and possession of CSAM. The charges stem from a 2020 online peer-to-peer investigation of the perpetrator in which over 1300 files of CSAM were downloaded from devices utilizing an IP address registered to him. A forensic review of items seized from the residence in August 2020 recovered an additional 8700 files of CSAM from the devices. After failing a polygraph examination, this individual admitted to numerous acts of sexual abuse of minors over more than a 20-year span.
- HSI St. Louis.: On June 10, HSI St. Louis along with St. Louis County Police Department conducted a search warrant for possession of CSAM at the residence of an individual. During the interview the suspect admitted to purchasing CSAM on the internet and that it’s his thumb drive. St. Louis County Police Department and HSI seized multiple electronics from the residence for forensic examination. St. Louis County Police Department arrested the suspect for possession of CSAM and was transported to the St. Louis County Jail.
- HSI Louisville: On June 10, HSI Louisville and the Kentucky State Police executed a state search warrant for the distribution of CSAM. The search warrant was conducted based on information received from HSI Portland regarding a user of Kik who was distributing CSAM. An individual was arrested for four counts of possession of child exploitation material and one count of distribution of child exploitation material. The suspect was previously arrested in 2019 for possession and distribution of child exploitation material by the Kentucky State Police and was scheduled to appear in court in July 2021 for that arrest.
On June 11, HSI in Argentina and international partners rescued 15 minors during a search and seizure. HSI international partner enforcement actions resulted in over 170 search warrants and 86 arrests as part of OPC 8. These include:
- Brazil (HSI Brasilia): Over 100 child exploitation related arrests and search warrants
- Argentina (HSI Buenos Aires): 72 child exploitation related arrests and search warrants
- Paraguay (HSI Buenos Aires): Four child exploitation related arrests and search warrants
- Panama (HSI Panama City): Six child exploitation related arrests and search warrants
- Ecuador (HSI Quito): Two child exploitation related arrests and search warrants
In addition, HSI Brasilia has developed extensive partnerships with the non-governmental organization (NGO) Child Rescue Coalition to combat child exploitation using Child Protection Software (CPS) and more. Between fiscal years 2016 and 2019, HSI Brasilia provided eleven technical training exercises on the use of the CPS to law enforcement agencies in Brazil and other Latin American countries. Following the exercises, the law enforcement authorities prepared targeting folders and conducted numerous CPS based investigations aimed at online child exploitation in their respective countries.
The efforts of HSI, CPS, and the strong international partnerships generated a significant increase in the number of child exploitation investigations and arrests conducted throughout the region. Since 2017, OPC has resulted in a total of approximately 861 arrests, 1,560 executed search warrants, and dozens of minor victims rescued.
The HSI International Operations Division is U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Department of Homeland Security’s largest investigative presence overseas. Division personnel serve as liaisons to governments and law enforcement agencies across the globe and work side-by-side with foreign law enforcement on HSI investigations. HSI is the principal investigative arm of ICE and a vital U.S. asset in combatting transnational crime and threats.
HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE; TTY for hearing impaired: (802) 872-6196. This hotline is staffed around-the-clock.
Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may also be reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, at 1-800-843-5678 or https://report.cybertip.org/.
Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is the principal investigative arm of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 7,100 Special Agents assigned to 220 cities throughout the United States, and 80 overseas locations in 53 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.