Each year, 800,000 children in the United States go missing, with many of them falling into the hands of predators who traffic the children through pedophilia networks where the children suffer unimaginable physical and psychosexual horrors.
This number is comprised of documented cases of disappeared children, and does not include children who are born into pedophilia networks and have no birth certificates. It also does not include undocumented immigrant children who are trafficked across the border.
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Worldwide, the number is closer to 8 million children missing and being sexually trafficked by international pedophile rings.
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Due to the scope of the epidemic sweeping the globe, U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) launched Operation Predator, an international initiative to identify, investigate and arrest child predators and dismantle the underground networks where they thrive.
HSI’s goal is simple: To identify, investigate, and arrest child predators who possess, trade, or produce child sexual abuse material; travel overseas for sex with minors; or engage in the sex trafficking of children.
Ice.gov report: Over the years, HSI’s child exploitation prevention efforts morphed from a small center in Fairfax, Virginia into a worldwide initiative that includes agents across HSI Seattle’s area of responsibility (AOR), which spans Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
One of these major prevention efforts was the launch of HSI’s flagship initiative, Operation Predator, and key domestic and foreign partnerships, which have been paramount in the expansion of both its reach and success.
Special agents, investigators and analysts from across HSI have dedicated themselves to protecting children and rooting out predators for more than two decades. In 2019, HSI initiated 4,224 child exploitation cases resulting in 3,771 criminal arrests, and identified or rescued 1,066 victims – an increase of nearly 18% over the previous fiscal year and reflecting HSI’s firm commitment to ending these heinous crimes against children, wherever they occur.
Locally, HSI agents in the Seattle AOR arrested hundreds of individuals for child pornography violations, including a youth sports coach, elementary school music teacher, nurse assistant, suspected rapist, child sex tourist and a number of other previously convicted, registered sex offenders, as reflected in the examples below:
- On Sept. 9, 2018, after years of contentious litigation and attempts to obstruct justice, Andrew Franklin Kowalczyk, 44, formerly of Portland, Oregon, was sentenced to 270 years in federal prison followed by a life term of supervised release for the repeated sexual abuse, exploitation and torture of three young children. Since he was first indicted in February 2008, Kowalczyk sought the replacement of counsel more than a dozen times and filed extensive motions to suppress evidence, causing a decade-long delay in bringing the case to trial. Amidst his in-court attempts to delay, Kowalczyk also obstructed or attempted to obstruct justice from prison by asking his father to retrieve incriminating hard drives before they could be seized by law enforcement and soliciting the murder of an Assistant U.S. Attorney.
- In October 2018, Ty Lee Treddenbarger, 54, of Burien, Washington, pleaded guilty to photographing and saving images of his molestation of minor victims between the ages of 13 and 16. In June 2019, the former coach of a South King County bowling team was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Seattle to 25 years in prison and a lifetime of supervised release for production and possession of child pornography. According to records filed in the case, in March 2017, a young victim disclosed the abuse to a parent. The Des Moines Police Department and King County Prosecutor’s Office requested assistance from HSI. HSI and the Seattle Police Department executed court authorized search warrants at Treddenbarger’s residence, seizing electronic devices that contained images of the sexual abuse of children. Analysis of the electronic devices revealed more than 300 images and 12 videos of Treddenbarger sexually abusing the young victims – many while they were drugged and sleeping. In the search, police also seized a fake smoke detector, fitted with a secret camera, and a small bathroom toiletry bag that also contained a hidden camera. Treddenbarger told law enforcement he used these devices to secretly film bowling team members in hotel showers and bathrooms during trips to bowling tournaments.
- On Nov. 1, 2018, Yazmani Gomez-Sandoval, 36, of Gooding, Idaho, was sentenced to 240 months in prison to be followed by a life term of supervised release, for possession of child pornography. In December 2017, HSI agents obtained a search warrant for Gomez-Sandoval’s residence in Gooding. They seized and searched Gomez-Sandoval’s cellphone, where they discovered approximately 71 images and 15 videos depicting child pornography. Gomez-Sandoval admitted to agents that he accessed the online chat room and traded images of child pornography with other individuals. He also admitted to agents that he had recently sexually abused a six or seven year old child and had sexually abused three other children between the ages of 4 and 6 while in Mexico between 2003 and 2006.
- On March 29, 2019, Kenny Appuallo Gregory, 29, of Anchorage, Alaska, was sentenced by to serve five years in prison, followed by a 20-year term of supervised release, for possession of child pornography. According to court documents, between April 2, 2016, and April 8, 2016, Gregory exchanged emails with an undercover law enforcement agent. Law enforcement obtained a search warrant for Gregory’s email address. Later, HSI agents contacted Gregory at his Anchorage residence and he agreed to speak with the special agents after being advised of his rights. During his interview, Gregory admitted that he was the user of the email address with whom the undercover agent was communicating. When shown the email communications, Gregory replied, “looks like you guys have it all down.” A search of Gregory’s phone revealed approximately 300 images and videos of child pornography that Gregory had downloaded through the internet. HSI conducted the investigation leading to the successful prosecution of this case.
- On June 14, 2019, Christopher Scott Newcombe, 35, of Federal Way, Washington, was arrested for possession of child pornography. Newcombe has worked as a music teacher in a variety of public and charter schools in the Puget Sound region and at the time of his arrest was an elementary music teacher in the Renton School District. According to records filed in the case, KIK screens for explicit images on its messaging system and forwards information on those images to law enforcement. In November 2018, HSI was alerted to the transmitting of sexually explicit images of young boys involving an internet protocol address ultimately traced to Newcombe. Law enforcement obtained a search warrant for Newcombe’s digital devices. The warrant was executed and Newcombe was charged with possession of images of child pornography.
- In July, 2019, Elizabeth Dawn Evans, 28, of Rigby, Idaho, was sentenced in U.S. District Court to 15 years in prison for possessing sexually explicit images of minors. According to court records, on Feb. 26, 2018, state investigators responded to allegations of child abuse at a residence in Jefferson County, Idaho, where Evans resided. A subsequent investigation discovered that Evans’ boyfriend had produced child pornography using a minor. Investigators obtained a search warrant for Evans’ electronic devices and discovered images of the sexual abuse taken on her phone. In court, Evans admitted that she took and possessed the images. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ordered that Evans be placed on supervised release for ten years following her prison sentence. Evans pleaded guilty March 6, 2019. The case was investigated by HSI in Idaho Falls and the Jefferson County Sherriff’s Office.
- HSI Idaho Falls agents identified and rescued two victims of registered sex offender Lex Goodwin, including his own infant daughter. According to court records, the investigation began in September 2017 after Google reported that child pornography had been uploaded to a Google account. An agent with HSI obtained a federal search warrant for the account, which revealed that the account belonged to Goodwin. Within the account, the agent located several sexually explicit images of a sixteen-month-old child that Goodwin had produced. The agent obtained additional search warrants authorizing the search and seizure of Goodwin’s electronics, including his cellphone, and a second Google account belonging to Goodwin. Additional files of the sixteen-month-old child that Goodwin had produced were located on his cellphone and in the second Google account. The investigation further revealed that Goodwin had attempted to produce sexually explicit images of a six-year-old child and that he had possessed and transported numerous other files of child pornography. On August 12, 2019, Goodwin was convicted was sentenced to 100 years in federal prison for production, transportation, and possession of sexual exploitation images/video of children.
“HSI is committed to eradicating individuals from our communities who seek to prey on children,” said Eben Roberts, acting special agent in charge of HSI Seattle.
“HSI’s agents, in cooperation with our law enforcement partners, work tirelessly to find and bring to justice, individuals who commit these heinous crimes. Moreover, we are dedicated to rescuing from harm’s way our most precious population – our children – and those who seek to harm them should consider this a warning.”
HSI takes a victim-centered approach to its child exploitation investigations by working to identify, rescue and stabilize victims. It works in partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and other federal, state, and local agencies to help solve cases and rescue sexually exploited children.
HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators. From outside the U.S. and Canada, callers should dial 802-872-6199. Hearing impaired users can call TTY 802-872-6196.
Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to NCMEC via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST.