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Federal agents arrest 255 'child predators' in nationwide operation

Federal agents and local law enforcement agencies in Maryland and across the country have arrested more than 250 men and a handful of women in a month-long operation targeting "child predators" who are part of a "disturbing trend" of adults connecting with children online and then abusing them, federal officials announced Monday.

Five of those arrested were from Maryland, including Christopher Barnes, 53, who law enforcement officials said lives in Anne Arundel County and was arrested in Rockville on June 20 after allegedly arranging to meet who he believed was a 13-year-old girl for sex. State court records give Barnes' address as being in the 2400 block of Boston Street in Baltimore.

Officials did not specifically name any other alleged Maryland offenders.

Through their efforts, known as Operation iGuardian, officials said they also identified 61 child victims of abuse, from rape and molestation to the production and distribution of child pornography. Six of them were identified in Maryland.

The operation, spearheaded by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations unit and Internet Crimes Against Children task forces, involved agencies across the United States and occurred between May 28 and June 30.

"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 statement. "Children and parents need to understand that not everyone online is who they say they are. Child abusers prowl social media looking for opportunities to force young people into sexual exploitation through guile, deceit, and extortion. We want children to know that it's wrong for any adult to solicit or pressure them for sex and that the law is on their side."

The extent of the crimes identified through the operation was broad, officials said.

Investigators "encountered various child predators chatting online with minors about sexual topics, sending them obscene images, encouraging them to produce nude or sexual photos and videos, and attempting to meet them in person to engage in sexual activity," officials said. "In some cases, child predators are also sexually extorting or 'sextorting' the minors into producing additional and increasingly graphic images and videos."

A total of 251 men and four women were arrested, on charges from rape and molestation to the production, distribution or possession of child pornography.

Of the 61 victims, 24 between the ages of seven and 17 were sexually exploited online. The majority of victims were between the ages of 13 and 15, but at least four were under the age of three, officials said. Forty-two were girls, 19 boys.

Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. Marcus L. Brown said his agency's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force has made 526 arrests of people victimizing children since 2000, and the recent effort has assisted their efforts to continue identifying predators.

krector@baltsun.com

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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