Suspects caught by Victoria child porn task force
Aug. 9, 2012 at 3:09 a.m.
Updated Aug. 10, 2012 at 3:10 a.m.
When a special task force was created to catch child predators, officials thought it would be a summer-only investigation.
Three months in, however, they have admitted the presence of online child predators in the Crossroads is a distressing danger to children here.
"I was hoping it wasn't all that prevalent or necessary, and we wouldn't have to continue," said Victoria County Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor. "Unfortunately, it has become more prevalent than we anticipated . This is one of our missions in the next four years - to push this out."
The Victoria Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, composed of Victoria County Sheriff's Office deputies and Victoria police officers, has arrested four men, charging them with online solicitation of a minor or possession of child pornography.
The team, which is locally funded, has developed at least 100 other potential cases and at least three more local arrests are pending in the investigation.
In addition to these arrests, the Victoria task force also led to the arrest of four out-of-state men who were preying on Crossroads children - from Utah, Pennsylvania, Florida and West Virginia. Another man is from Russia, who may face charges after diplomatic discussions.
Many were caught sending and receiving sexual images to and from children.
Since July, the task force has executed eight subpoenas, 10 search warrants and four undercover sting operations.
Chief Deputy Terry Simons said the department would continue the task force indefinitely.
"Bottom line is, if you are a child predator in Victoria, you might want to go find another place to do it," Simons said. "Because these guys are going to catch you."
Each case took 20 to 40 employee hours to develop probable cause for search warrants. Once all electronic devices are seized from a warrant, it could take officers an additional 150 hours to forensically sift through new data.
Simons said he has seen a horrific progression of child porn in his 30 years in law enforcement.
"We knew it was going to get worse, but none of us anticipated where it is headed today," he said. "Very rarely did you see infants engaged in sexual intercourse. Now it is common."
Some pornographic material uncovered showed infants and children in sexual bondage or even simulated murders.
Vincent Tyler Jimenez, 31, of Hallettsville, who was charged with online solicitation of a minor, was reportedly soliciting children as young as 11, Simons said.
This type of investigation, however, can be "toxic" for the officers, especially those with children, Simons said, because of the often gruesome material they are exposed to.
"One of the things I have to deal with is the images I can't erase," said Sgt. Daniel Simons, who is leading the task force. "I'll have to deal with those, but I feel that this is a calling. I feel called to seek out those who would harm our children in Victoria and stop them before they do."
Sgt. Simons said each member of the task force deals with the trauma differently and each has limits on what he or she can handle. One team member, for example, refuses to look at child porn.
"He will not do that. He is an excellent investigator, he is a good interviewer, interrogator, but he will not look at child porn because he doesn't want to deal with that ... and that is why you have teams," he said.
The task force was originally part of a national effort last summer to catch predators when kids spend more time home alone. In 2011, the group arrested two men who have since been convicted on child pornography charges.
The task force spent a lot of time on background work and building the team the first summer, and did not make as many arrests, the sergeant said.
He said a device as simple as an iPod Touch can be incredibly dangerous for children.
"People have been purchasing these devices for their children, 8 and up, the recommended age," he said. "But with the Internet that device is capable of accessing, you can access the full blown Internet and download applications. We are setting our children up for victimization and not even knowing."
O'Connor said it is vital for parents to monitor all of their child's electronic devices - cellphones, computers, tablets - even when school starts again. He said his own children tease him for being "paranoid," but he stresses it as a real, and local, problem.
"We are not paranoid, we just see what goes on here and even we make personal efforts to not be victims," O'Connor said.