A Wichita, Kansas man and a Chicopee, Massachusetts man pleaded guilty today to production of child pornography for their participation in a group of individuals who operated two websites for the purpose of coercing and enticing minors as young as eight years old to engage in sexually explicit conduct on web camera.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia and Assistant Director Stephen E. Richardson of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division made the announcement.
“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 Blanco. “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.”
“Despite the increasingly common use of technology to hide their conduct, those who seek to take advantage of children online will be found and prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” said U.S. Attorney Boente. “We hope that Operation Subterfuge can serve to show that vulnerable victims will get justice.”
“Crimes against children are among the most heinous crimes that the FBI investigates,” said Assistant Director Richardson. “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. I am incredibly proud of the immense amount of time and effort that men and women throughout the FBI devoted to this investigation. I am also grateful to all of our partners whose collaboration was vital to making this a successful case.”
Allan Cortez, 34, and Edward Parson, 46, were charged on April 4, 2016, and pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III of the Eastern District of Virginia. Sentencing for Cortez is set for July 21, 2017, and sentencing for Parson is set for July 14, 2017.
According to admissions made in connection with the plea agreements, members of the group created false profiles on social networking and video sites popular with children posing as young teenagers to lure children to two websites they controlled. Parson and Cortez admitted that they showed the children who came to the website pre-recorded videos of prior minor victims, often engaging in sexually explicit conduct, to convince those children that they were chatting live with another minor. Parson and Cortez further admitted that they used these videos to coerce and entice the children to engage in sexually explicit activity on their own web cameras, which could be viewed live by multiple adult members without the victim’s knowledge. Further, Parson and Cortez admitted that these videos were automatically recorded and made available for later download. Parsons and Cortez also admitted that the websites ranked the efforts of members to successfully lure children to the website and to coerce and entice them to engage in sexually explicit conduct on live web camera. Law enforcement agencies have disabled both websites.
In addition to Parson and Cortez, 10 other group members have been convicted and sentenced as follows:
Anthony Evans, 54, of Grahamstown, South Africa
Pleaded guilty in South Africa and was sentenced to 10 years in prison on May 29, 2015. An extradition request remains pending.
William J. Morgan, 36, of Essex, New York
Pleaded guilty June 26, 2015. Sentenced to 21 years in prison on Sept. 18, 2015.
Carl Zwengel, 51, of Princeton, Illinois
Pleaded guilty July 10, 2015. Sentenced to 18 years in prison on Oct. 2, 2015.
Milton Smith, Jr., 34, of Lorton, Virginia
Pleaded guilty Aug. 14, 2015. Sentenced to 30 months in prison on Feb. 3, 2017, after testifying at the trial of a co-conspirator.
Christopher McNevin, 37, of Carlisle, Ohio
Pleaded guilty Aug. 21, 2015. Sentenced to 19 years in prison on Dec. 4, 2015.
Karlo Hitosis, 32, of Bronx, New York
Pleaded guilty Oct. 30, 2015. Sentenced to 18 years in prison on Feb. 5, 2016.
Stephen Funk, 35, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Pleaded guilty Dec. 18, 2015. Sentenced to 21 years in prison on April 1, 2016.
James E. Hancock, 45, of Thomasville, Georgia
Pleaded guilty Dec. 29, 2015. Sentenced to 90 months in prison on April 1, 2016.
Brian K. Hendrix, 42, of Mt. Juliet, Tennessee
Convicted by jury on Jan. 8, 2016. Sentenced to 21 years in prison on April 8, 2016.
Jeffery Van Dyke, 46, of Weed, California
Pleaded guilty March 10, 2017. Sentencing scheduled for June 9, 2017.
An estimated 1,500 minors were lured to the websites. During the investigation, known as Operation Subterfuge, the FBI identified 357 minor victims in the United States, and Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s (RCMP) National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre identified 43 minor victims in Canada. The FBI’s efforts to identify victims are ongoing.
Trial Attorney Lauren Britsch of the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) and Assistant U.S. Attorney Whitney Russell of the Eastern District of Virginia prosecuted the case. Special Agents with the FBI’s Violence Against Children program led the investigation with the assistance of the FBI’s Operation Rescue Me, the Digital Analysis and Research Center and the Office of Victim Assistance. The South Africa Police Service, Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offenses, Gauteng; Royal Canadian Mounted Police, National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre; the Dutch Police Services Agency, KLPD; and the Australian Federal Police, Child Protection Operations, Sydney were active partners in Operation Subterfuge, a multinational investigation coordinated by members of the FBI’s Violent Crimes Against Children International Task Force.