September 30, 1997 1:25 PM PDT

Child porn sting snags suspects

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Federal and state authorities have nabbed more than 120 people suspected of sending child pornography over the Net, according to the New York state attorney general's office.

Authorities have also identified more than 1,500 people worldwide who are suspected of the same crime.

The ongoing probe, conducted by New York state attorney general Dennis Vacco's office along with U.S. Customs officials and local authorities, already has resulted in 31 convictions nationwide, according to Vacco.

Dubbed Operation Rip Cord, authorities conducting the 18-month sting found the alleged child pornographers by posing as trading partners online. America Online (AOL) assisted investigators in their pursuit.

Child pornography has long been one of the Internet's hot buttons. Supporters of the Communications Decency Act had used the issue to try to rally support to their cause. But even die-hard cyberlibertarians have supported efforts to arrest and convict those who would use the relative anonymity of the Net to trade in child porn. They have argued that child pornography is already banned and illegal in the United States and many countries, so no special laws are needed to control it on the Net.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has an ongoing probe of child pornographers on the Internet, dubbed "Innocent Images." That probe is separate from Operation Rip Cord, according to FBI Special Agent Larry Foust, who applauded the efforts of New York and Customs officials.

"We still have done nothing but scratch the surface," he said. "We need all the help we can get. I think anonymity is certainly something that pedophiles strive for and the Internet can do just that. They can remain anonymous and penetrate the sanctity of anyone's home."

Those referred to prosecutors in the New York-based sting include a school administrator, a school janitor using a stolen computer identity, a college student training to become a kindergarten teacher, a pizza deliverer, and a used car salesman. Some have already pleaded guilty.

The probe also lead to a Swiss couple who were arrested in Buffalo, New York, last month and accused of "masterminding an international child pornography manufacturing and distribution ring," according to the state attorney general's office.

The investigation was launched in 1996 by a team of former squad detectives in the Buffalo office eventually expanded to include Customs officials, who had launched a similar probe.

As a result of the probe, investigators have amassed over 200,000 child porn images and seized over $137,000 in computer equipment.

 

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