Child-porn Internet case nets 71 arrests in metro area

Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge James Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge James Hayes, Jr. announces the arrest of 71 people for sexual exploitation crimes against in children in "Operation Caireen, Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Photo Credit: Bryan Smith

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Federal and state investigators have netted 70 men and one woman from the metropolitan area in a fast-moving investigation of Internet child pornography, the largest such probe ever undertaken locally, officials said Wednesday.

With the help of NYPD computer crime specialists, agents with Homeland Security Investigations, a branch of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, secretly monitored Internet file sharing networks to identify suspects who either produced, distributed or collected sexually explicit photos and videos of children.

The majority of the 71 arrested were from New York City, including a rabbi, police officer and paramedic from Queens, as well as a police chief from Westchester, officials said. Four of those arrested are Nassau County residents, but officials didn't identify them Wednesday. While federal authorities are prosecuting a few of the cases, local district attorneys in the city, upstate and in Nassau will bring the others.

Officials seized more than 10,000 child pornography images and 600 pieces of computer devices used in circulating the material, according to officials involved in the case. NYPD computer experts were credited with making more than 24 of the cases, the department stated.

Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said the images fed the appetites of a "large and twisted population."

Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan said some seized videos showed child rape and "they are nothing more than videotaped crime scenes."

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Investigators began the investigation, dubbed "Operation Caireen" late in 2013 after they became concerned about a proliferation of online child porn here, said HSI special agent in charge James T. Hayes Jr.

Hayes said the initial phase of the case led to the arrest in January of Brian Fanelli, chief of the Town of Mount Pleasant Police Department in Valhalla, and Samuel Waldman, a rabbi and instructor of Judaic studies from Brooklyn. Both are being prosecuted in federal court in Manhattan, Hayes said.