A Fremont man is among 14 defendants charged in connection with one of the largest online child exploitations probes by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations. Scott Budman reports.
A San Francisco Bay Area man is among the 14 defendants charged in connection with one of the largest online child exploitation probes by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, involving more than 250 victims in 39 states and five countries.
Aung Gaw, aka Michael Gaw, 25, of Fremont, is one of 14 defendants charged in the case that targeted a child pornography website on the Darknet or what's known as "The Onion Router," which has been nicknamed "Tor." Tor (The Onion Router) is software that enables online anonymity by concealing a user's location.
As an example, court documents allege that Gaw used the names "magnum.steel.2012" and "roflcopter" on Skype when he told the alleged main ringleader that he had found teens and young boys to engage in sex, sometimes with dogs.
Gaw was charged in November, for alleged child pornography charges that occurred between Dec. 1, 2012 and May 9, 2013. ICE and Homeland Security announced the charges on Tuesday morning.
ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice told NBC Bay Area that authorities were waiting for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Louisiana to give the OK on making the announcement. She said authorities suspect there may be more perpetrators and victims out there.
Gaw and the other defendants are in federal custody.
Download: USA vs. Aung Gaw aka Michael Gaw
In a phone interview from Louisiana on Tuesday, Gaw's attorney, Thomas Damico told NBC Bay Area that Gaw is "presumed innocent," until the conclusion of his trial, which is slated to begin in June. Gaw has entered a not guilty plea twice: In November, and when charges were amended again in January. (PDF)
Damico said Gaw attended classes at Ohlone College in Fremont and at UC Berkeley, but he never graduated. Damico also said that Gaw, who is not married and has no children, took some time off from college to work on some sort of "business development" project. Damico declined an interview on behalf of Gaw.
Gaw and the other defendants have been indicted for conspiring to operate a child exploitation enterprise, following an extensive international investigation by Homeland Security and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The case was part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child exploitation abuse.
Eleven of the defendants, including Gaw, are federally charged in the Eastern District of Louisiana and three in other districts.
So far, investigators have identified 251 children, including 228 in the United States. The majority, or 159 of the children, were 13 to 15 years of age. Seven were 9 years old or younger. All of the children have been contacted by law enforcement and U.S. victims offered support services from HSI victim assistance specialists
“Never before in the history of this agency have we identified and located this many minor victims in the course of a single child exploitation investigation,” ICE Deputy Director Daniel Ragsdale said in a statement. “Our agency is seeing a growing trend where children are being enticed, tricked and coerced online by adults to produce sexually explicit material of themselves.”
The underground website was a hidden service board on the Tor network and operated from about June 2012 until June 2013, at which time the site contained more than 2,000 videos and had more than 27,000 members, according to ICE. The website shared webcam-captured videos, mostly of young boys, enticed by the operators of the site to produce sexually explicit material, authorities said. Tor enables online anonymity, directing Internet traffic through a volunteer network consisting of thousands of relays to conceal a user’s location.
The website’s alleged primary administrator, Jonathan Johnson, 27, of Abita Springs, La., was charged with operating a child exploitation enterprise. Federal prosecutors say he admitted to creating multiple fake female personas on popular social networks to target and sexually exploit children, and to coaching other child predators in his inner circle to do the same. Jonathan
Johnson has been in federal custody since his arrest June 13, 2013, and faces 20 years to life in prison. The others arrested as part of "Operation Round Table" include: