U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will announce results of a major operation that they say rescued sexually exploited children worldwide--and some of the cases took place in Central Florida.
More than 200 adults were arrested in the investigation, and all but one of the Florida-based arrests took place in the Orlando/Cocoa Beach area. The most recent case was solved in December in northwest Florida.
Among the arrests was Marcelle Whitfield, of Orlando, who is accused of having child pornography on his laptop. He wasn't accused of abusing the children himself, but instead charged with receiving or possessing child pornography, a federal crime.
Jose Rivera, Jr., of Melbourne, is being detained as a danger to the community after federal officials say he abused a 4-year-old girl in 2011, telling ICE agents he hoped the porn would deter him from sexually abusing a child.
One-hundred twenty-three victims of child sexual exploitation were identified by ICE, 44 children were directly rescued from their abusers and 79 were identified as either being exploited by others outside of their home or are now adults who were victimized as children, according to ICE.
According to ICE, Homeland Security Investigations Tampa, which oversees offices from Naples to the Panhandle, made 11 criminal arrests as part of this operation. Ten of those arrests were made in the Orlando/Cocoa Beach area. The Cocoa Beach office identified one victim as part of this operation.
The Homeland Security Investigations division launched Operation Sunflower in November 2012 and ended the first week of December 2012.
"The sexual abuse of young children, often at the hands of people they trust, is a particular wrong," said ICE Director John Morton in a release. "Whenever our investigations reveal the production and distribution of new child pornography online, we will do everything we can to rescue the victim and prosecute the abuser even if takes us years or around the world to do it. A relentless fight against child exploitation is the only answer."
According to the release, five of the victims were under the age of 3, nine were ages 4 to 6; 21 were ages 7 to 9; 11 were ages 10 to 12; 38 were ages 13 to 15; and 15 were ages 16 to 17. Twenty-four of the victims identified are now adults who were victimized as children. Seventy were female and 53 were male.
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