U.S. men busted in international child exploitation ring

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Two men pleaded guilty Friday to production of child pornography stemming from their participation in an internet scheme which enticed minors as young as eight years old to perform sexually explicit acts on web cameras.

Sentencing is scheduled for July 14 for Allan Cortez, 34, of Wichita, Kansas, and Edward Parson, 46, of Chicopee, Massachusetts.

Cortez and Parson were part of a group that created false profiles as young teenagers on social media and video sites popular with children to lure minors to two websites they controlled. Once victims came to the sites, the men showed them pre-recorded videos of prior victims, often participating in sexual conduct, to convince those minors that they were chatting live with another child.

Parson and Cortez leveraged the videos to convince the victims to engage in sexually explicit behavior on their own web cameras, which were viewed live by adult members of the group. The men also recorded the videos and made them available for future download.

The websites encouraged adult members to participate by ranking their success in luring children there and garnering their participation in the scheme. Both websites have been disabled by law enforcement.

Ten additional group members have been convicted and sentenced.

The investigation revealed that an estimated 1,500 minors were lured to the websites, including 357 victims in the United States, and 43 victims in Canada. The FBI is continuing to try to locate victims.

“Believing they were cloaked in the anonymity of the Internet, the members of the group sexually exploited hundreds of children around the nation and globe through deceit and trickery,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

“This case exemplifies the threat of online predators to the world’s most unsuspecting and vulnerable victims. Our prosecutors and law enforcement partners are committed to overcoming the challenges posed by these complex investigations, identifying and notifying victims and their families and rooting out these offenders who lurk and hunt in the shadows of the web.”

“Crimes against children are among the most heinous crimes that the FBI investigates,” said Assistant Director Stephen E. Richardson of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “This case is a prime reminder of the FBI’s unwavering commitment to delivering justice to those who victimize the most vulnerable members of our society. It also serves as a warning that we will stop at nothing to find those who commit these despicable acts.”

This case was a result of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative started in May 2006 by the Justice Department to fight the growing epidemic of child sexual abuse.

H/T: Justice.gov

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