U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents announced today they have rescued 44 children from sexual abuse as part of a child pornography investigation that netted 245 arrests over five weeks late last year.
Agents have identified an additional 79 individuals who have been abused as children including 24 victims who now may be adults and are seeking the public's help to identify individuals who are alleged to be sexually abusing young children, with the images posted on the Internet.
"Many times, our investigations into people who possess and trade child pornography reveal new material that points to the ongoing sexual abuse of children. In these cases, our primary objective is to rescue the victim from their horrific situation. And our next step is to arrest and seek prosecution for their abusers," said ICE Director John Morton in a statement.
Among those arrested: Bradley Vaine from Fresno, Calif., who was allegedly abusing a 7-year-old girl who suffered from mental disabilities. Also arrested was Samuel Gueydan from Clovis, Calif., who allegedly had over 1.2 million images and 7,000 videos of child pornography on his computer, ICE said.
The investigation was dubbed "Operation Sunflower" to commemorate the anniversary of a case where agents discovered evidence that a child was in imminent danger of being raped by a relative. According to ICE, the tip initially came from Dutch investigators who found Internet postings suggesting the girl was in imminent danger.
Investigators turned up an image of the girl taken in a moving vehicle. The image held a critical clue -- a road sign in the background containing an image of a sunflower. A sharp-eyed agent discovered the sunflower emblem was unique to road signs in Kansas. ICE agents spent several days combing Kansas highways to find the exact spot where the photo was taken. Eventually they traced the location, which led them to the girl, sparing her from being further victimized, the agency said.
As part of "Operation Sunflower" agents have sought a Jane and John Doe warrant for an unknown man and woman who are depicted in a video sexually abusing a young girl who appears to be 13 years old. Agents, who believe the video is about 11 years old, said they want to solve the case to identify the abusers. Jane Doe is believed to be 35 to 45 years old in the video, which depicts her with several tattoos including a butterfly on her right hip and a blade tattoo on her right shoulder along with a curled up cat. Based on forensic analysis, agents believe the abuse occurred in the Los Angeles area, ICE said.
Agents said they are also seeking an unidentified white male with gray and white hair, a full beard and wearing wire-framed eyeglasses, who was sexually abusing a toddler in Internet images. A second suspect being sought by Homeland Security Investigations agents out of Portland, Ore., is a white male with a tattoo on his right tricep who was allegedly sexually abusing a young male child.
ICE's efforts in recent months to identify unknown abusers led to agents arresting two suspects who were allegedly molesting young girls on the internet. Last September, Michael Serapis Freeman and Michelle Lee Freeman turned themselves in to local police in Oregon after a media campaign resulted in tips identifying Michelle Freeman as the Jane Doe suspect.
Last month Corrine Danielle Motley of Okaloosa County, Fla., was arrested and charged with the production and distribution of child pornography. Motley, 25, was arrested by the Northwest Florida Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force members and Homeland Security Investigations special agents.
Calls to the suspects named in this story and emails to their lawyers weren't immediately returned.