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LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- Federal officials say 255 child predators, including one from Louisville, were rounded up during a five-week investigation. 28-year-old Christopher Coy of Louisville was arrested June 14 on charges of online coercion and enticement.
Officials are also looking for more information about a suspect they believe was extorting a 10-year-old Kentucky girl, among others. Eduardo Arturo Romero Barrios was arrested June 26 in Monterrey, Mexico. Mexican authorities provided a lead saying he was pretending to be a teenage girl so he could convince minors to send sexually explicit material. After that, officials say he extorted them to provide more pictures by threatening to reveal the previous photos.
Besides the Kentucky girl, Romero Barrios is suspected of extorting at least two others -- two in Australia and one in the Ukraine.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and Internet Crimes against Children (ICAC) task forces conducted the operation, called Operation iGuardian. It lasted from May 28 to June 30, and targeted users, traders, and producers of child pornography.
"Protecting our youth in the digital age requires all of us to be on the lookout for child predators abusing and extorting victims online," said ICE Director John Morton in a news release. He said it's important for children and parents to understand that not everyone online is who they say they are.
Investigators say they have seen what they call a "disturbing trend" in which child predators are using the Internet more and more to produce and share child porn. Those predators convince children to produce and share sexually explicit photos and videos, along with trying to meet them personally to take part in sexual activity.
The feds say 24 of the 61 victims were communicating online with strangers who sexually exploited them. They ranged in age from seven to 17.
Twenty of the 255 child predators were charged with online sexual enticement of a minor, and charges for two of those escalated to sextortion of multiple victims. The other 235 suspects were charged with producing child pornography, possessing or distributing child porn, traveling with the intent to have sex with a minor, and other offenses, including rape and molestation. Four of those arrested were women.
Of the 255 child predators arrested during Operation iGuardian, 20 were charged with online sexual enticement of a minor, two of which escalated to sextortion of multiple victims (see Caraballo-Colon and Romero Barrios cases below). The other 235 were charged with child pornography production, possession or distribution of child pornography; traveling with the intent to have sex with a minor; and various other offenses, including rape and molestation. Of the 255 arrested, 251 were men and 4 were women.
Homeland Security Investigations has also announced an awareness program call Project iGuardian, in association with and Internet Crimes against Children and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. It would teach children, parents, and teachers about online dangers, how to stay safe, and how to report abuse and suspicious activity.
From Homeland Security Investigations:
HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators. Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST.