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Nation & World

Hundreds arrested in child exploitation probe

WASHINGTON – More than 200 adults have been arrested in an international investigation of child pornography, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Thursday.

The agency's director, John Morton, said 123 child victims were identified during the five-week investigation, which ended in early December. ICE and local authorities found 110 victims in 19 U.S. states, while the others were living in six countries elsewhere.

Morton declined to provide specific details about which foreign countries were involved, saying only that there were some cases in Mexico.

The investigation, dubbed "Operation Sunflower," was part of ICE's effort to find and rescue victims, and arrest abusers and people who make or transmit child pornography.

"We have to attack child exploitation relentlessly and together. There is no other way, there is no other answer," Morton said. "It is a wrong among wrongs. We are literally defending the defenseless."

Morton also announced arrest warrants for two unidentified adults charged in Los Angeles with molesting a girl who appeared in online photos to be about 13 when she was abused. The man and woman were identified only as "John Doe" and "Jane Doe" and authorities believe they may have been in the San Fernando Valley area north of Los Angeles when they abused the girl. Photos of the abuse investigators found online are believed to be about 11 years old, Morton said.

The victims ranged in age from less than 1 to 17 years old. Morton said 44 of the victims were living with their accused abusers.

Among those arrested were 51-year-old Gerald Roberts, of Pageland, S.C., who is accused of producing child pornography using a 6-year-old girl. Roberts, who has pleaded not guilty, was arrested Nov. 8 and is facing federal charges. His attorney, Michael Allen Meetze, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Michael Wioskowski, 54, of Eastpointe, Mich., was arrested Nov. 27 on charges of possession and receipt of child pornography. Investigators found a video in his home of two underage girls showering at his house when they served a warrant at his home. Wioskowski was a court security officer and formerly a reserve police officer in Michigan.

Wioskowski has not entered a plea, according to court records. His attorney, Robert S. Harrison, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In Fresno, Calif., 26-year-old Bradley Vaine, a convicted sex offender, was arrested Nov. 6 on federal charges of distribution and possession of child pornography. ICE said a 7-year-old mentally disabled girl was rescued. According to court records, Vaine was in federal custody and has not entered a plea. His attorney, Victor Chavez, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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