Photo taken at MN resort helps solve child porn case

6:39 AM, Jan 4, 2013   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials say a photo taken at a resort in west-central Minnesota helped them solve a child pornography case and rescue a girl from her abuser.

Gene Paulauskas, assistant special agent in charge of ICE's Homeland Security Investigations in Minneapolis, says agents in Oregon were investigating a case when they came across a photo labeled "Our Minnesota Trip." The image was sent to agents in Minnesota, who had it distributed among resort owners.

The former owner of a resort in Richville identified the property, and investigators tracked the alleged abuser to Peoria, Illinois. Ann Piper, age 48, was arrested there in May and later convicted on child pornography charges.

The case was highlighted Thursday as ICE announced more than 200 arrests nationwide stemming from a recent international child pornography investigation.

During Operation Sunflower, led by agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigation unit from Nov. 1 to Dec. 7, 123 victims of child sexual exploitation were identified, ICE Director John Morton said at a press conference in Washington.

Of that group, 44 children had been living with their abusers, and 79 children were exploited by people outside of their home or were victimized as children and are now adults. Seventy female and 53 male victims rescued; 110 of the victims were identified in 19 U.S. states and the rest were identified in six foreign countries.

"Results [of the operation] were significant but grim, a sad reminder to us all that child online exploitation is a real part of our lives and absolutely demands our full attention," Morton said. "The rescues highlight the depth and global nature of this problem."

In the investigation, HSI and partner law enforcement agencies arrested 245 people.

"As satisfying as the arrests have been, today is a day of mixed emotions because this operation is ultimately a tale of the perverse, pervasive and violent exploitation of children, very young children to satisfy a very dark pleasure of twisted adults," Morton said.

Of the victims identified during Operation Sunflower, five were under the age of 3, and one of those was just 19 days old. Thirty others were below the age of 10, officials said.

"The age of the victim has always been a problem. The Internet has just allowed a much greater immediacy to the abuse, and we're seeing numerous instances of life child abuse that has been streamed over the Internet," Morton said.

From the results of Operation Sunflower, named after ICE's first successful case under the new Victim Identification Program, Morton said a few trends emerged.

Most notably, younger children were more often abused and more women were directly involved in carrying out the abuse, he said.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. )

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