An investigation into child pornography resulted in charges against 15 Lake County residents, including two former high school teachers and a swimming coach. At a press conference last week, Lake County law enforcement officials announced the results of Operator Predator, a 10-month investigation into child pornography which started in November 2003.
Fifteen men from throughout Lake County, from as far north as Antioch to as far south as Barrington, have been charged with unlawful possession of child pornography and other related offenses.
Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Waller said the defendants come from communities throughout the county, including Antioch, Grayslake, Vernon Hills, Gurnee, Highland Park, Deerfield, Mundelein, Lake Barrington, Lake Villa, Round Lake Beach, Waukegan and Fox Lake. Some of the individuals have already been convicted while others are awaiting trial or have not yet been apprehended.
“What’s become clear to me during the course of this investigation is that child predators have left the playground and are now invading cyber space,” said Lake County Sheriff Gary Del Re. Del Re said the investigation “strikes at the heart of the commercial trade of child pornography by attacking the commercial profits derived by such a deplorable venture.”
More than 75 personal computers were seized during the course of the investigation, and more than 50,000 child pornography images and video clips were discovered.
Waller said among the individuals who were charged included two teachers and a high school coach.
“In our view anybody who deals with child pornography needs to be brought to justice,” he said.
The Lake County investigation began as a result of a federal investigation into a child pornography and money laundering scheme in Minsk, Belarus. Through that investigation, federal investigators identified and shut down a child pornography website in Florida. Federal authorities obtained the names of individuals were subscribing to the site and sent them to local authorities throughout the country.
Waller said initially 29 potential cases were identified in Lake County. In some cases, it was determined the individuals had moved out of the area, there was insufficient evidence, or the individuals had been victims of identify theft, he said.
The investigation in Lake County was a joint effort between the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office, the Lake County Children’s Advocacy Center, and the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement Division, as well as local police departments. Waller said county investigators logged more than 400 man hours in developing the cases against the defendants.
“Lake County is the first county in the Midwest, maybe in the country to complete this investigation,” he said.