Sunday, July 19, 2009

Operation Sentinel Arrest 18 for Child Porn

The chirping birds didn't wake the family sleeping inside a brick-faced house in Voorhees Thursday morning as the sun rose on a quiet, suburban street.

Local, state and federal law-enforcement officers, though, were spread out like a noose around the home and stealthily tightened their circle and they passed a patch of sunflowers, a children's tricycle and a pair of pink Hello Kitty rain boots.

A series of loud thuds on the front door echoed through the neighborhood and inside the home, one of New Jersey's most active downloaders and uploaders of child-pornography images and videos woke up.

"This is the police, we have a search warrant," an officer barked after repeated knocks. "Open the door."

Thursday was day four of Operation Sentinel, a weeklong series of predawn raids orchestrated by the Camden County Prosecutor's Office that culminated in 18 arrests across South Jersey, including the gritty streets of Camden and the picturesque borough of Haddonfield.

The suspects had downloaded or uploaded graphic images and videos of prepubescent children being raped, sexually assaulted and abused, authorities said. Some of the victims were infants.

All of the suspects are males. Six of them are juveniles.

"They are married, single and divorced," Camden County Prosecutor Warren Faulk said during an afternoon news conference yesterday. "They are fathers, grandfathers and sons."

Once inside the raided homes, law enforcers gathered all occupants in one spot, most seemingly still half-asleep and confused, then quickly tried to track down where the computers were and who used them the most.

Sometimes they knew who the suspects were right away just from the look on their faces. Other times it was a surprise. In the Voorhees house, a 14-year-old boy was charged.

The noose had been tossed around the home long before officers crept through the grass there. For the past year, investigators with the Major Crimes Unit of the Camden County Prosecutor's Office and the New Jersey State Police have been identifying the homes of suspects uploading and downloading child pornography through an Internet Protocol address.

Police are looking for people downloading and uploading videos of child pornography because the videos bring stronger charges than still images. Investigators also tend to focus on the most graphic videos, often of children who have yet to hit puberty, so there are no gray areas or sympathetic juries.

"We're not going to have a medical expert come in and try to contest the age of these girls," said Gary McBride, a senior investigator with the Major Crimes Unit.

The downside is that those videos have to be viewed by law enforcement, and written summaries of their contents include words such as "father," "ejaculate" and "mouths."

A video of a murder would have been a godsend for Lt. Marty Devlin of the Major Crimes Unit during the hundreds of homicides he investigated in the county and in Philadelphia, where he spent more than 25 years as a detective.

Watching child pornography, Devlin said, is committing the rape and abuse all over again. One video that makes Devlin's jaw clench is of a little girl named "Vicky," who he said seems happy despite "everything you can think of sexually" being done to her by her father.

"Here's a little girl who is probably happy just to be spending time with her father," he said. "Law enforcement got lucky and found her."

When children are found in the homes during the raids, as was the case in the Voorhees juvenile suspect's house, the county's child-abuse unit comes in to question them. It's no big leap, Devlin said, to believe the suspects downloading the porn may some day look for the real thing.

"We're trying to stop young perverts before they become old perverts," he said. "We have plenty more in the pipeline too."

Devlin said authorities are still investigating whether child abuse took place in any of the homes.

Jordan Winczuk, one of the suspects arrested Monday in Oaklyn, had been indicted in March, accused of sexually assaulting five children.

A few miles from the Voorhees house, investigators were combing through suspect John Carpenter's lavish home on Royal Court, a street where luxury cars sat parked in driveways and fake palm trees sprouted from front lawns.

And, Devlin said, the operation hit the streets of Camden yesterday. "You get all walks of life with this stuff." *

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