Eight Southland men arrested over the past 10 days are facing federal charges involving the victimization of minors through crimes that include the production of child pornography, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced Friday.
The internet has dramatically increased the availability of child pornography, and digital equipment has made it relatively easy to create, distribute and collect these images, according to federal prosecutors. But underlying each case in which an individual uses technology, there is a young victim who was abused, molested or coerced to engage in sexual activity, officials said.
"These cases involve acts of depravity against vulnerable young people, many of whom will continue to be victimized as photos documenting their abuse spread across the internet," U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said, adding that the "perceived anonymity" of the internet cannot shield child predators.
"Whether they create new images or collect videos, they can and will be caught."
The defendants facing charges in Los Angeles federal court include two arrested Thursday:
-- Nestor Ramirez, 36, of South Los Angeles, who is charged with production, distribution and possession of child pornography; and
-- Victor Manuel Diaz Romo, 53, of Lawndale, who is named in an indictment alleging receipt of child pornography over a peer-to-peer network and five counts of possession of child pornography.
The FBI-led sweep resulted in the arrest of six other men last week.
-- Christopher Norman Strinden, 57, of Long Beach, who is charged with three counts of possession of child pornography he obtained from a now-defunct website called Playpen, which was operating on the dark web. Many of the more than 17,000 images in this case allegedly involve minors under the age of 12, including toddlers;
-- Kenneth Rudy Smith, 31, of Lawndale, who is charged with one count of possession of child pornography involving victims under the age of 12 that was found during a search of his home;
-- Justin Schobey, 19, of Canyon Country, who is charged with production, distribution and possession of child pornography. Schobey allegedly used text messages to coerce a boy in another state to produce child pornography;
-- Jorge De Los Santos, 31, of South Los Angeles, who is charged with two counts of receipt of child pornography and one count of possession. De Los Santos allegedly used an online peer-to-peer network to obtain sexually explicit videos depicting young males;
-- Fernando Vazquez Garcia, 30, of South Los Angeles, who is charged with receipt of child pornography, as well as possessing videos he allegedly obtained over a file-sharing network; and
-- Nathan Pham, 27, of Long Beach, who is charged with both receipt and possession of child pornography obtained through a peer-to-peer network.
The possession count alleges images involving minors under the age of 12.
"No crime impacts us as law enforcement agents and as parents more deeply as the abuse of an innocent child," said Joseph Macias, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations Los Angeles. "As these cases vividly illustrate, the internet has left our children vulnerable to exploitation by sexual predators not just around the corner, but around the globe. The staggering number of arrests achieved through interagency cooperation is a testament to our combined passion to prevent future harm to innocent children."