Louisiana region included in international sex crimes arrests

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office recently announced the arrest of 245 suspected pedophiles in an international raid called Operation Sunflower. The arrests include 13 in the New Orleans, Louisiana area. The operation, which lasted more than a month, targeted predators who allegedly commit sex crimes involving child pornography, according to the ICE.

The ICE also announced that it had rescued 44 children whom the agency suspected were sexually exploited. The ICE Director reported that the agency identified 123 victims in total, with 110 of those located in the United States. The 44 children who were rescued were directly removed from their alleged abusers, some of whom were family members or other trusted adults. The 79 other children were not exploited within the family home or are now of adult age.

Information was not immediately available regarding the 13 suspects that were arrested in and around New Orleans. However, agents based in the region ranked second out of ICE's 26 field offices for successful child predator arrests made in 2012. Local agents made 114 of the 1,542 arrests of pedophile suspects nationwide in 2012.

The arrests involve online child pornography that was disseminated internationally. The name Operation Sunflower was adopted from a 2011 investigation in which ICE agents located a girl, aged 11, by identifying a sunflower-shaped road sign in Kansas that was visible in an image posted on the Internet. The head of the New Orleans Office verified that ICE's Investigative teams specialize in photo forensics to capture unknown predators. They also make arrests by evaluating videos and graphics seized from a variety of online sources.

The head of the New Orleans office stated that saving children is the primary focus of their efforts. Training of special agents and forensic examiners to better locate victims will be improved even further in 2013, according to ICE officials. They stressed that rescuing the children was as important as prosecuting the offenders.

Improved techniques will add to the mounting arrests for sex crimes in Louisiana. However, with large numbers of arrests, there will inevitably be cases of mistaken identity and faulty or mishandled evidence. Although efforts to rescue child victims are highly commendable, there have always been a number of faulty arrests and prosecutions in these kinds of investigations. Due process of law must be honored in all criminal prosecutions so that the system does not arbitrarily destroy the lives of the innocent while it justly and vigorously punishes the guilty.

Source: The Times-Picayune, "Feds announce hundreds of arrests, rescues in sweeping child porn investigation," Michelle Hunter, Jan. 3, 2013

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