Updated: 05/21/2014 11:21 AM
Created: 05/21/2014 8:42 AM WHEC.com
A police officer, a paramedic, a rabbi, a nurse and a Boy Scout leader were among at least 70 people arrested in the New York City area in recent weeks as part of a sweeping investigation into the anonymous trading of child porn over the Internet.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which led a five-week investigation ending last week, planned to announce Wednesday that it resulted in charges against at least 70 men and one woman. Officials call it one of the largest local roundups ever of individual consumers of child porn, and a stark reminder that they come from all segments of society.
Consuming child porn "is not something that is just done by unemployed drifters who live in their parent's basement," said James Hayes, ICE's New York office. "If this operation does anything, it puts the lie to the belief that the people who do this are not productive members of society."
Advances in technology and computer capacity have allowed child-porn collectors to more easily amass vast troves of images and to exchange files with each other directly, authorities say. The cyber dragnet resulted in the seizure of nearly 600 desktop and laptop computers, tablets, smartphones and other devices containing a total of 175 terabytes of storage.
Agents are still examining the devices to locate and catalog evidence - an arduous task that could result in more arrests. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children also will use its analysts to review the images to see if 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," said John Ryan, the organization's chief executive officer.
Authorities decided to launch the operation after the arrest in January of a former police chief in suburban Mount Pleasant, Brian Fanelli, who pleaded not guilty this week to federal charges of knowingly receiving and distributing child pornography. Court papers allege that Fanelli told investigators he began looking at child porn as research before it grew into a "personal interest."
Authorities say some of the defendants had access to young children, though there were no reports of abuse. The Boy Scout leader also coached a youth baseball team. The rabbi home-schooled his children and others. Another person had hidden cameras used to secretly film his children's friends.
One defendant was already on bail following his arrest last year on charges he used the Internet to direct women to record sex acts with young children. Court papers allege he "indicated the last video he had downloaded and viewed depicted a mother sexually abusing her 3- or 4-year-old child."