Police chief, rabbi among 71 nabbed in child porn bust
NEW YORK — 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 used hidden cameras to secretly film his naked stepdaughter.
Still another defendant was already on bail following his arrest last year on charges that 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.”
One had been convicted and sentenced for raping someone younger than 11 years old.
The arrests were part of a federal investigation that resulted in the seizure of nearly 600 desktop and laptop computers, tablets, smartphones and other devices, 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 that the suspects were from all over New York state and parts of New Jersey.
A poster board displayed photos, names and occupations of five men arrested as part of the operation: 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.
At a press conference, James Hayes, the head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations New York office, said officials are certain there will be more charges against the 71 people arrested and possibly more arrests.
“These defendants came from all walks of life,” Hayes said. “Many of these defendants are well-educated and successful.”
None of the victims in the images found on the computers has been identified, Hayes said.
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,” Hayes said. “Clearly, this criminal activity has reached epidemic proportions.”
He said the announcement of 71 arrests should send a message to predators: “that they are going to be identified and found.”
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.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown emphasized that the children pictured in pornographic images are victimized in serious crimes.
“These are real children involved in despicable acts,” Brown said. “Each time an image is viewed, traded, printed, or downloaded, the child in that image is victimized again.”
Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said, “This case underscores the crucial importance of internet surveillance initiatives by law enforcement to protect children from sexual predators.”
This case started with the arrests of a police chief and a rabbi who had been using peer-to-peer file-sharing programs to exchange images, Hayes said.
He said the investigation began because officials, after making several child pornography arrests, became concerned about the number of people in the New York area actively searching for sexual images of children.
“Our investigation revealed that at any given point in time there are as many as 3,000 users searching for pornographic images of children on a variety of peer-to-peer networks,” Hayes said.
Hayes said investigators went on peer-to-peer networking sites and pretended to be users looking for images and videos. They came across search terms like, “real child rape,” “mom daughter family sex,” and “3-year-old gets it every way imaginable.”
In January, investigators arrested Fanelli, the 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 that 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 home-schooled 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.
It was startling to find evidence that a woman made lewd videos of her son, Hayes said.
“It’s very rare for us to identify women who are involved in this type of crime,” he said.
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.
Those arrested are between 20 and 60 years old. They traded photos of children as young as 2.
Some face federal charges and others state charges. Hayes said officials in some cases decided to partner with local police departments to ensure that suspects would be arrested and charged as quickly as possible.
Agents are still examining the computers and other devices for evidence — an arduous task that could result in more arrests, HSI said. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children will review the images to try to identify children using databases of known victims.
Bello reported from McLean, Va.