ORLANDO, Fla. – How has our local law enforcement adapted to catching predators who prey on young children over the internet?
Every day, a group of local detectives go to work with the FBI at the FBI offices in Maitland to tackle the growing problem.
Separately, on their own, it would be overwhelming. And despite their best efforts, local law enforcement has a limit on the penalties they can seek for child sex offenders.
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In a recent Facebook video posted by the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Marcos Lopez calls sex crimes suspect John Draper, a “very sick man.”
After a tip came in from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, where so many tips come from, Lopez said detectives arrested Draper.
“And guess what they find?” Lopez said. “All kinds of images, child pornography in his possession.”
But if the State of Florida prosecutes Draper, or any other suspect accused of sex crimes against children, there’s a limit on punishment. Not so under federal prosecution.
FBI agent Kevin Kaufman said his Crimes Against Children Task Force, a partnership with Orange, Osceola and Seminole County law enforcement detectives, are putting away child sex crimes suspects for as long as life in prison.
“The state may only get one or two years but we’ll get 15 to 30 or 60 years,” Kaufman said. “Or life.”
Detective Jennifer Wing is with the Orlando Police Department and now reports to work daily at the FBI offices as part of the Crimes Against Children Task Force.
“So instead of working one case by myself, I’m able to work six or seven cases at a time,” Wing said.
Last year, Wing alone got some 400 tips from NCMEC. One of them was a man posing as a 15-year-old boy tricking girls as young as 9 to perform sex acts and then sharing the videos — “sextortion.”
Wing said it took her five weeks just to go through the suspect’s computer.
“The quantity of things that I was finding just literally blew my mind,” Wing said. “It took me five weeks to go through just that evidence. so just five weeks on that case alone trying to go through the amount of evidence that this guy had on his devices. In the meantime, other cases are not being investigated.”
So Wing took her case to the FBI task force. That began her partnership with the FBI.
“There are so many computers taken during warrants but to have one person doing that, really bogs that person down,” Kaufman said.
The task force got results together, sending Todd Engels to prison for the next 50 years.
Engels is now at a high-security U.S. penitentiary in Arizona with a release date of 2063.
Kaufman said giving more children more devices with more time on the internet and less supervision equals more cases of sextortion — predators tricking kids online and then threatening them if they don’t keep up the sex acts.
“They solicit innocent images from kids and start out saying, ‘Hey can I get a face pic and can I get a picture of you clothed,’” Kaufman said. “A lot of these apps used online give locations. So not only do the predators do research on their prey or on their victims, they go online and find where the child resides, where a child goes to school, find all the things dealing with that child’s life. So when they end up sextorting, they say, ‘Hey I’ll kill you or I’m going to hurt your family or I’m going to send this to all your friends and your middle school if you don’t send me more.’”
And even more disturbing is the reality, that as effective as the task force is, they can’t keep up.
“Unfortunately, you’re starting to see victims who are becoming younger and younger, I’ve investigated cases with 7-year-olds,” Kaufman said. “I would say we’re putting a minor dent, I wouldn’t say we’re putting a great dent in the size of predators online or predators trading and receiving children pornography on the internet.”
For more information about FBI efforts against sextortion, click here.
Click here to learn more about NCMEC on sextortion.