Defense attorneys say the feds are especially going after child porn distributors who trade photos and videos via file-sharing websites, the same way the entertainment industry is pursuing people who illegally share movies or music.
It seems like every few days federal authorities in Connecticut nab another person for possessing or distributing child pornography.
Take for example, Dr. Carl Koplin, a family physician in Tolland, who in early April was sentenced to 51 months in prison for possessing what the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Connecticut said was one of its largest busts to date, as investigators found 800 gigabytes of child porn on Koplin’s home computer.
Other recent busts include a school teacher, former police captain, a camp counselor and pediatrician. Connecticut U.S. Attorney David Fein told the Law Tribune that his office especially wants to catch people who work in positions of trust with children. "It’s reprehensible that a practicing physician who held such an important position of trust in the community victimized so many children by collecting and trading sexually explicit images of them," Fein said of the Koplin conviction.
Fein said it’s no coincidence that there’s been an uptick in child porn convictions recently. "I made it an office priority in 2010 within months of coming in to the position," said Fein. "We prioritized child exploitation cases and changed the way we were proceeding with them."
Since 2010, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Connecticut has prosecuted 57 possession, distribution or production of child pornography cases. The two longest sentences went to two defendants who produced child pornography – William Oehne, 45 years, and David Csanadi, 20 years.
Fein said his office has expedited the investigation process in child exploitation cases. Part of that entails working closely with other agencies, like the FBI, to more quickly complete the forensic review of seized computers.
Fein said his department also works closely with state prosecutors. A typical scenario, he explained, would be that the state prosecutors might handle the charges of sexual abuse of children depicted in images "and we might handle the manufacturer/possession/distribution of child porn as a byproduct of the abuse."
Defense attorneys say the feds are especially going after child porn distributors who trade photos and videos via file-sharing websites, the same way the entertainment industry is pursuing people who illegally share movies or music. Distributing child porn results in a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison.
Defense attorneys also say there’s another reason why there have been so many child porn convictions in the news.
Prosecutors "have such an unfair advantage when it comes to these types of cases, just financially," said Kevin Smith, a New Haven attorney. "You’re looking at tens of thousands of dollars to defend a case like that, which seems out of line with the nature of the [alleged offense]."
Smith said, for example, that a defendant who claims to have no idea how child porn got to his computer might have to pay a forensic computer expert even more than he pays his defense attorney. Smith said many defense lawyers will tell their clients, "The case against you is unwinnable and there is nothing to do about it, so just go ahead and plead."
He added: "It’s not necessarily true. They are winnable but it takes expensive and thorough work."
But factor in the humiliation and public attention associated with child porn cases, and not many defendants want to go to trial. "Child porn cases plead out more than any other case," he said.
Jonathan J. Einhorn, a New Haven defense attorney, has handled the only two federal child porn trials in the state. The most recent was in early March, in a case involving Matthew Wallace, a former Ledyard resident who was found guilty of two child pornography charges following a trial in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, in January 2010, a Milford police detective assigned to the Connecticut Child Exploitation Task Force logged into an Internet file-sharing network and downloaded several images of child pornography from an Internet Protocol (IP) address assigned to Wallace at his Ledyard residence.
In May 2010, law enforcement agents searched the home and seized computers and hard drives. A forensic examination revealed more than 500 images and videos of children engaged in sexually explicit conduct. Einhorn said those sorts of despicable photos is all the ammunition the feds need to prosecute the case. "A case is over the moment the jury sees the first picture," said Einhorn. "That’s all they need to see and after that it doesn’t matter what the defendant says."
Einhorn said both cases he took to trial involved defendants who insisted they were innocent and did not know how the pornography got on their computers. Nevertheless, Einhorn said, it didn’t seem to matter what his clients said on the witness stand; in the minds of the jurors, someone was going to pay for the appalling photos the jurors had to look at.
Sex Acts In Philippines
Einhorn noted that many of the accused were once successful professionals. Now they are convicted sex offenders going to prison.
In January 2013, a former computer teacher at East Hampton Middle School, Richard Hendricks, was sentenced to 121 months in prison for child pornography possession and purchasing Internet access to live sex shows involving minors originating out of the Philippines. In February 2012, a former Granby police captain, David Borque, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for possessing more than 20,000 images and 4,000 videos of child porn.
And late last year, an aerospace scientist from Glastonbury, William Patrick, was sentenced to 15 years behind bars for child porn possession and, similar to Hendricks, persuading children in the Philippines to participate in sex acts that he watched and recorded on his home computer.
The prosecutions are part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Project Safe Childhood, which was initiated in 2006. The number of cases and defendants prosecuted by U.S. Attorney’s Offices nationwide increased by 40 percent in 2009, with 2,315 indictments against 2,427 defendants. That number, officials say, has increased each year since.
In the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Connecticut, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ray Miller oversees the child pornography cases. Miller and other prosecutors work closely with the FBI. They have a particularly strong partnership with FBI Special Agent Jim Wines, who heads the Connecticut Child Exploitation Task Force out of New Haven.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office recently gave Wines an outstanding investigator award for his work leading to these prosecutions. Wines did not respond to interview requests.
Jon Schoenhorn, a Hartford defense attorney, said FBI agents and other investigators are spending more time on Internet stings, often posing as children online and monitoring file-sharing websites. "They dedicate entire squads of agents just sitting around, trolling around the Internet," said Schoenhorn.
When they find child porn, Schoenhorn said investigators will then use the IP address of the computer to obtain a warrant. Once they seize that computer, they can get a better sense of what the person did with the file after downloading it. Specifically, they can use that initial search to find other people with whom the original suspect is sharing images.
"It is a harsh and draconian system that’s been set up," said Schoenhorn, who acknowledges one of the toughest parts of his job is viewing the disturbing images allegedly retrieved from a client’s computer. "They will arrest you merely by possessing it and even though they have the burden of proof, I have found that the defendant has to prove they didn’t know it was there and that doesn’t happen very often."•