Shutting down a Russian Web site that allegedly sold child pornography, authorities have arrested four people in the United States and five people in Moscow.
The arrests are part of a multinational effort to clamp down on suspected child pornographers, said officials with the U.S. Customs Service and the Moscow City Police, who announced the arrests today.
"The message today should be unmistakable to anybody in that supply chain. The United States Customs Service is engaged with other law enforcement agencies here and abroad in a worldwide assault on the producers, distributors and purchasers of child pornography," said Acting U.S. Customs Commissioner Charles Winwood at a press conference today.
Last May, Moscow City Police requested the assistance of the U.S. Customs attache in Moscow to identify and investigate the individuals responsible for a Web site depicting the sexual and physical abuse of children.
The Russian Web site was selling child pornography videotapes online and through the mail to customers in the United States and Europe, according to the Customs Service.
It's the third child pornography distribution network taken down through the cooperation of Customs and Moscow police.
A Global Investigation
The investigation, called Operation Blue Orchid, used Custom's CyberSmuggling Center, located in Fairfax, Va. Officials conducted an undercover purchase from the Blue Orchid Web site, allegedly operated by two Russians: Sergey Garbko and Vsevolod Solntsev-Elbe.
Information obtained from the buy led Moscow police to Elbe, who was detained, along with a 13-year-old boy last December. Elbe told police he had transported the boy to Moscow for the purpose of sexual exploitation, according to the Customs Service.
A search of Elbe's apartment led to the seizure of 400 videotapes, video duplication equipment, and sales and shipping records. Moscow police forwarded information to U.S. officials, including names of people who allegedly ordered child pornography from the site. Police also sent about 50 leads to U.S. Customs offices around the world.
Arrests and Indictments
In the United States, authorities searched the home of an Indiana man, Glenn Martikean, on Jan. 26. Officials reported seizing videotapes, computer media and documents.
At the time of the search, Martikean was in Russia attempting to have sex with a child, according to the Customs Service. He was arrested five days later and on Friday a federal grand jury in Indiana indicted him on charges of illegally importing child pornography and traveling to have sex with minors.
On March 2, Russian authorities arrested Victor Razumov, known as the "Punisher," on charges he molested and sexually abused a 15-year-old boy for two sadomasochistic videos, which show the boy crying.
The victims, mostly young boys from homeless or troubled families, were solicited and taken to Moscow for repeated use in the videos, according to the Customs Service. Some of the films also included adults. Most of the boys were from the city of Novokuybishevsk, about 560 miles from Moscow.
Customs officials said the Web site's customers would wire cash, and then e-mail delivery instructions to the distributor. Prices ranged from $200 to $300 per video. A majority of the tapes were ordered from the United States, authorities said.
With the advent of personal computers and the Internet, the purveyors and consumers of child pornography increasingly have turned to computers to conduct their business, officials say.
"What the Internet has done is expanded the market, expanded access and tremendously increased the amount of speed at which this can move," said Winwood.
"With one video tape you can cut and paste as much as you want and send those images all over the world in a matter of seconds," says Ruben Rodriguez, who is the director of the exploited children unit of the Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
An estimated 100,000 Web sites are involved in some way in child pornography, according to the Customs Service.
Since 1992, Customs authorities have arrested more than 1,000 people for offenses related to child pornography. Last year alone, 320 people were arrested.
"I wouldn't say this is the biggest business on the Internet, but it is probably the biggest illicit business on the Internet," said the Director of Customs' Cybersmuggling Center, Kevin Delli-Colli, at the news conference.