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Saturday, May 30, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Tracking child porn


Post Falls Police Investigative Lieutenant Greg McLean shows off the computer forensic lab at Post Falls Police Department. 
 (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Post Falls Police Investigative Lieutenant Greg McLean shows off the computer forensic lab at Post Falls Police Department. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
By Taryn Brodwater Staff writer

Detectives investigating sex abuse charges against a Twin Lakes, Idaho, man in November discovered a collection of child pornography, including hundreds of thousands of images, some of prepubescent children being raped and sexually abused.

It took eight detectives – nearly every investigator in the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department – working together for two days to inventory the hundreds of compact discs and the computer and camera equipment found in 46-year-old Edmund D. Bergeman’s car. Now all of the evidence is at a state lab in Boise, undergoing review by a computer forensic specialist.

Experts say the multibillion-dollar child pornography industry is only getting bigger.

“The access to (child pornography) and the number of people that take advantage of that access is huge,” said Spokane County sheriff’s Sgt. Dave Van Wormer. “Some man who would probably be ashamed to go into public and buy that stuff and trade it can now get out of bed and go to his basement and look at it – probably without being caught.”

Computer-related crimes as a whole are increasing, but those involving child victims are top priority, said Post Falls police Detective Dave Beck. That means other cyber crimes, like Internet fraud investigations, get less attention.

The Spokane Police Department, Spokane County Sheriff’s Office and Post Falls Police Department have forensic computer specialists trained to review computer hard drives, cell phones and other electronic media.

Other agencies, including the Coeur d’Alene Police Department and the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department, rely on state and federal forensic labs. The bottleneck at those labs can delay a case for months.

“People think it’s like (the television show) ‘CSI’ and that half an hour later we have everything they did on the computer, and we don’t,” Coeur d’Alene police Detective Tracy Martin said.

The heavy caseload has all but eliminated the opportunity to go online in search of predators and child porn traffickers who haven’t been caught, local investigators say.

“Proactive stings are something we’re thinking about delving into,” Van Wormer said. “At the moment, we’re so backlogged with cases we’re trying to react to, proactive stings could snowball us more than we’re ready for at the moment.”

Federal authorities, however, have made an effort to ferret out the predators who troll the Internet and produce and trade child pornography.

In the summer of 2005, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigation resulted in more than 1,200 arrests of individuals worldwide who used a credit card billing service to buy child porn from Web sites.

The FBI’s Innocent Images National Initiative – which uses undercover investigators to patrol Internet chat rooms – has also resulted in busts of suspected child pornographers worldwide.

Since Innocent Images began in 1995, the FBI has made about 7,700 arrests resulting in more than 5,800 convictions. The agency has also joined forces with international authorities to take down large child porn rings.

The scope of the problem is evident from local arrests resulting from Justice Department investigations.

“A federal grand jury in Spokane late last month indicted eight people in six separate child porn cases after an investigation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. Among the defendants are two men who worked in law enforcement.

“A 65-year-old sex offender living in the basement of a Spokane police officer’s home was among 22 suspects arrested nationwide for allegedly posting encrypted child porn files on a Web site operated by the North American Man/Girl Love Association. Thomas R. Herman pleaded guilty and said in court that his collection of 1,000 images of child pornography “was the worst stuff” imaginable. He was sentenced March 28 to 10 years in prison.

“More than 2,500 images of child porn were found last summer on the computer of Carlos Brewer, a 29-year-old resident of Kingston, Idaho. Brewer was indicted after e-mailing child pornography, including sexually explicit pictures of infants, to an undercover FBI agent he met in an AOL chat room. Brewer was sentenced to nine years in federal prison.

As in cases of sexual abuse, child porn crimes are committed by a variety of individuals.

“We have arrested doctors, attorneys, police officers, federal agents, pillars of the community, you name it,” said Don Robinson, supervisory agent in charge of the FBI’s Coeur d’Alene office. “It cuts across socioeconomic status.”

Investigators also encounter technology challenges in child porn cases, especially in the age of free wireless Internet, cell phone cameras and text messaging.

“Trying to attach a computer to a particular person is a challenge,” Van Wormer said. “I’ve found, too, that with wireless it’s possible for someone to drive by with a car and use a wireless connection and use another person’s wireless service. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out who drove by and used his computer for pornography purposes.”

Kootenai County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Marty Raap said the technology used by criminals is increasingly advanced. Some protect files with sophisticated passwords and firewalls, Raap said.

“Police officers in Idaho don’t even necessarily need to have a college education. A guy like myself, I don’t have any particular computer skill other than what I’ve learned over the years,” he said. “These guys who are driven to become experts at it often know more about computers than the law enforcement people who are prosecuting them.”

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