ORLANDO, Fla. - In a five-week, international investigation, more than 200 adults have been arrested, including 10 from central Florida, accused of owning and trading child pornography or abusing children to make their own videos.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton said 123 child victims were identified in the investigation, which ended in early December. It found 110 victims in 19 U.S. states. The others were living in six countries.
Morton said the investigation is part of the agency's effort to find and rescue victims, and arrest abusers and people who make or transmit child pornography.
Federal agents said they rescued 44 children directly from their sex abusers in their own households.
Don Woody, supervisor to Homeland Security agents in Orlando, said predators often make contact with children on the Internet, posing as other children, and coax them to send explicit images.
“Once the exploiter has something from that child, they can use it against the child, blackmail into giving them more,” said Woody. “The threat of maybe exposing to a family member or parent is so extreme to the child they comply.
One of the 10 arrested in central Florida was 26-year-old Marcelle Whitfield on charges of receiving and possessing child porn.
When WFTV went to Whitfield’s home, a roommate said Whitfield had moved out.
Federal documents also show John David Williams was arrested in Volusia County for possessing child pornography.
Robert McKiness, of Mims, was arrested on charges of receiving and possessing child porn labeled.
Two unidentified adults have also been 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 are charged as "Jane Doe" and "John Doe."
The sexual abuse images in the case were first discovered by special agents in Chicago in 2007 during an unrelated child pornography investigation, authorities said.
Agents said the material was submitted to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s (NCMEC) Child Victim Identification Program, which determined the victim had not yet been identified and could be in danger of ongoing sexual exploitation.
After determining there was probable cause to believe that the abuse occurred in California, agents said they referred the case to Los Angeles authorities for further investigation.