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New York child porn ring included rabbi, police officers, source says

Hundreds of computers and other devices seized in what officials say was a peer-to-peer porn network

New York-area police officers, paramedics, a Little League coach and a rabbi are among 70 people arrested in a state and federal investigation into a ring of collectors that allegedly used computers to swap pornographic images of children, a law enforcement source told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday.

The operation, coordinated by Homeland Security Investigations and including agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local and state agencies, began arresting people a month ago and recently completed the sweep. Hundreds of computers and other pieces of electronic equipment have been seized, the source said.

The suspects, from across the metropolitan New York area, have been arrested on a variety of state and federal charges, said the source, who asked to remain unnamed because details were to be released at a news conference later Wednesday. Penalties, if convicted, vary from five years in prison to more than 10 to 15 years.

“The arrested run the gamut of occupations from a rabbi to a few police officers to a Little League coach,” the source said. “The first arrests were probably more than a month ago.”

Earlier this week, a former police chief from Mount Pleasant, N.Y., a New York City suburb, appeared in federal court on charges that he distributed child pornography, the Associated Press reported.

Brian Fanelli, 54, who had taught sex abuse awareness to schoolchildren, has pleaded not guilty to all charges and is free on a $50,000 bond. He must wear electronic monitoring and has been ordered not to use the Internet or to associate with children.

Fanelli was arrested in January and that appears to have led authorities to launch the current investigation that has resulted in more arrests.

In addition, federal prosecutors have scheduled an arraignment for a suspect later Wednesday that involves child porn charges.

Rene Cardona, 22, a former after-school employee, is charged with two counts of production of child pornography, two counts of receiving and distributing child pornography, and one count of possessing child pornography. He is accused of having multiple chats over the Internet with an 11-year-old boy in Guam. In those chats, Cardona, who was aware of the victim’s age, according to the charges, allegedly induced the youth to take sexually explicit photographs of himself and send them to Cardona.

At the afternoon news conference, officials are expected to emphasize that child pornography has spread through society, including to adults often entrusted with caring for children.

As computer technology has advanced and users have become more skilled it has become easier for collectors to put together images and to exchange files with one another as part of a peer-to-peer network, the source said.

Officials are still examining the seized electronics. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is also expected to review the images to see if any of the children can be identified.

Susman reported from New York, Muskal from Los Angeles.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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