LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Five Orange County teens have been identified as among more than 250 juvenile victims identified in connection with one of the largest online child exploitation probes ever, authorities said Tuesday.
KNX 1070’s Mike Landa reports 14 men have been arrested on charges of using the Internet to get child porn from unsuspecting victims in 39 states and five countries.
The “Operation Round Table” investigation conducted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) found the majority of the victims were 13 to 15 years of age, while seven were 9 or younger, according to ICE officials. The Orange County victims ranged in age from 14 to 17, including four youths from Anaheim.
All 14 defendants in the case – which targeted a child pornography website on the Darknet’s Onion Router, also known as Tor – were in federal custody and have been indicted for conspiring to operate a child exploitation enterprise, following an extensive international investigation by HSI and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), according to Claude Arnold, the special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations in Los Angeles.
“They thought they were communicating with a very attractive 18-year-old girl, so that’s how they were tricked into it,” said Arnold. “But the end user, in most cases, were older men.”
Authorities say the underground website was a hidden service board on the Tor network and operated from about June 2012 until June 2013, at which time the site contained more than 2,000 videos and had more than 27,000 members.
Tor enables online anonymity, directing Internet traffic through a volunteer network consisting of thousands of relays to conceal a user’s location, according to investigators.
Prosecutors say the website’s primary administrator, Jonathan Johnson, 27, of Abita Springs, La., has been charged with operating a child exploitation enterprise. He admitted to creating multiple fake female personas on popular social networks to target and sexually exploit children, and to coaching other child predators in his inner circle to do the same.
Johnson has been in federal custody since his arrest June 13, 2013, and faces 20 years to life in prison, authorities said.