Fifteen New Jersey men were charged yesterday with possessing child pornography in a yearlong worldwide federal investigation that targeted both online consumers and people who made millions of dollars selling photos of naked children. The Newark Star-Ledger said defendnats included a 70-year-old minister, a 22-year-old elementary school band teacher, a retired engineer, and a banker.
The investigation netted three Belarussian Web site operators who allegedly collected millions of dollars in online fees for child pornography and the head of a Florida credit card company that processed their transactions. U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie said the investigation was the first to target international profiteers of child pornography by tracking the payments from subscribers. “The message here today for people who decide to buy child pornography on the Internet is that you’re not nearly as anonymous as you think you are,” Christie said. “And we are going to find you and we are going to prosecute you.”
Awaiting extradition are three men from Minsk, Belarus, who prosecutors say ran Regpay, a company that collected fees for dozens of child pornography Web sites. The charges culminated an investigation by agents from the Internal Revenue Service, FBI, Customs, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Investigators logged onto dozens of Web sites, pored through mountains of credit card data, raided the offices of one company and used e-mails from an undercover agent to lure the Belarussians to their arrests.
It started with agents’ typing the word “Lolita” into an Internet search engine. Over several months, investigators bought memberships to roughly a dozen sites, then used bank and credit card records to trace transactions.