Two Belorussian businessmen, charged in what may be the largest Internet child pornography investigation ever, pleaded guilty in court in New Jersey this week. It was part of a worldwide investigation aimed at stopping promoters of pornography from operating over the Internet. It is the first time the U.S. government has specifically targeted the financial side of Internet child pornography.
Tuesday's guilty pleas in New Jersey are only the most recent result of a global two-year Internet child pornography investigation. One focus of that effort, a Belarus-based company that processed invoices for dozens of child pornography Web sites. Jamie Zuieback is Spokeswoman for I.C.E, or 'ICE,' the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
"We knew it would be successful, we had no idea how successful it would be," says Ms. Zuieback.
So far, the investigation, code named Operation Predator, has resulted in some 200 arrests in the United States and around 1200 worldwide.
"Those have included individuals from all walks of life, from more than 100 countries as well as the United States and these are crimes that we are targeting very aggressively to help keep children safe," says Ms. Zuieback.
The investigation began as a probe into Regpay, an Internet billing company in Minsk, Belarus. The company was charged in 2004 the with laundering money and providing credit card billing services for some 50 child pornography websites worldwide. It is Regpay's chief operators who pleaded guilty on Monday.
"It's a sign of the good work of our 'ICE' agents, it's a sign of the good work of our international law enforcement partners who cooperated in many of these investigations, but unfortunately it's also a sign of how large the problem is," says Ms. Zuieback.
Now that they've taken down the collections side of this enterprise, U.S. agents will focus on those who illegally subscribe to child pornography sites.