May 22, 2014
Two police officers, a rabbi, a registered nurse, a nanny and a Boy Scout den leader are among 70 men and one woman arrested on charges of trading child pornography in what federal officials say is one of the largest-ever roundups in the New York City area.
The arrests included a woman charged with producing and distributing child pornography involving her own child and a man who had previously been convicted of sexually abusing a child. Another used hidden cameras to secretly film his children’s friends.
The arrests were part of a five-week federal investigation that resulted in the seizure of nearly 600 desktop and laptop computers, tablets, smartphones and other devices containing a total of 175 terabytes of storage, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations said in a press release Wednesday. Some of those possessed libraries with thousands of sexually explicit images and videos of children.
At a press conference announcing the 71 arrests, officials laid out tools used by the suspects to acquire the illicit materials.
On a long table, 22 hard drives, 5 tablet computers, 7 discs, 4 SD cards and one laptop sat as evidence of wrongdoings. A large map with red dots showed the suspects involved stretched from all over New York state to parts of New Jersey.
Nearby a large poster board displayed photos, names and occupations of five men arrested as part of the operation. Featured were: Brian Fanelli, a former police chief, Samuel Waldman, a rabbi, Yong Wu, a police officer, Jonathan Silber, a Boy Scout leader and Little League baseball coach, and Aaron Young, a paramedic.
The expansion of the “Dark Web,” where pedophiles hide using websites that encrypt their computers’ identifying information, has fueled an explosion of child pornography.
“The sheer volume of confirmed and suspected instances of individuals engaging in the sexual exploitation of children … is shocking and the professional backgrounds of many of the defendants is troubling. We can no longer assume that the only people who would stoop to prey on children are unemployed drifters,” said James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New York. “Clearly, this criminal activity has reached epidemic proportions.”
Child pornographers have a compulsion to trade images and videos like baseball cards. The more graphic the image, the more they trade it. That leads investigators to convoluted cases where one defendant leads to another who leads to others.
This case started with the arrests of a police chief and a rabbi who had been using peer-to-peer file sharing programs to share images.
In January, investigators arrested Fanelli, the former police chief of suburban Mount Pleasant, N.Y. He pleaded not guilty this week to federal charges of knowingly receiving and distributing child pornography.
Court papers allege that Fanelli, 54, told investigators he taught sexual abuse awareness classes to elementary and middle school students. He said he began looking at child porn as research for the classes and that it grew into a “personal interest.” Court documents say two of his computers had 126 graphic video and photo files of children as young as 7 engaging in sex acts with other children and adults.
Investigators say they caught Fanelli by using software available only to law enforcement that identifies IP addresses of computers that have downloaded files known to be child pornography. Agents used the software to match Fanelli to a computer that shared sexually explicit images of children.
Two months later, HSI agents arrested Waldman, 52, a Brooklyn rabbi and Judaic studies instructor at a girls’ seminary. The rabbi had access to young children, home-schooling his children and others. Court documents showed investigators found at least three graphic videos on Waldman’s computer.
Given the positions of public trust held by Fanelli and Waldman, federal officials said investigators ramped up their investigation into other pornographers the men may have been in touch with.
A torrent of arrests followed in April and May, several of which were of defendants with high-profile positions in the community, federal officials said.
The arrests included Kenneth Gardner, a registered nurse at Westchester County Medical Center and Eduardo Salcedo Urzola, a nanny.
In total, investigators nabbed people in all five boroughs and the surrounding suburbs to the north of the city, in Long Island and in New Jersey.
Agents are still examining the devices to locate and catalog evidence — an arduous task that could result in more arrests, HSI said. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children also will use its analysts to review the images to see whether it can identify children using databases of known victims.
“We refer to each of these images as a crime scene photo because that’s exactly what they are,” John Ryan, the organization’s chief executive officer, told the Associated Press.