Feds identify 13 Tulsa-area teen boys, victims of sex exploitation
BY GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer
Friday, January 04, 2013
1/04/13 at 7:22 AM
As part of an international operation to save sexually exploited children, federal officials identified 13 Tulsa-area teenagers associated with one suspect Thursday.
The suspect has not been arrested and an identity has not been made public.
The Homeland Security Investigations, which is a division in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, led Operation Sunflower between Nov. 1 and Dec. 7 aimed to rescue victims and target people owning, trading and producing images of child pornography.
Special agents found 123 victims of sex exploitation and arrested 245 suspects.
Of the victims, 110 are living in 19 U.S. states.
While 70 of the victims are girls, the Tulsa-area victims are boys between the ages of 14 and 16.
Special Agent in Charge Dave Marwell said the investigation in Tulsa is ongoing.
"This is a problem throughout our nation and internationally," Marwell said. "It affects everybody. The people involved in this are men and women, rich and poor and from all walks of life. Some of the individuals are caretakers of the children and some are not. We have a wide berth. It's a big problem and a big issue."
The victim age breakdown: 14 range from infant to 6 years old; 32 are ages 7 to 12; 38 are ages 13 to 15; 15 are ages 16 to 17 and 24 are adults who were victimized as children.
Of the victims, 44 children were directly rescued from their abusers and 79 were exploited by people outside of their home or are now adults who were victimized as children.
The immigration agency has historically investigated crimes of illicit trade, travel and finance.
However, Marwell said the victims and perpetrators are a mix of immigrants and U.S. citizens.
"Our children are our most vulnerable. We are doing our best to develop investigations and methodically pursue those leads to the nth degree," Marwell said.
The operation was launched to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the rescue of an 11-year-old girl in Kansas. A sunflower-shaped highway road sign was key in the investigation.
It was the first case worked under the agency's new victim identification program.
The operation devoted more than 200 special agents, and another such operation is expected to be launched again.
"It was a huge success," Marwell said. "We always, first and foremost, focused on saving, rescuing and identifying victims. Now, we are placing greater emphasis on that."
Last year, special agents worked closely with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to partially identify several people across the country sexually abusing young children and taking photos or videos of the acts.
The agents then worked with the Department of Justice's child exploitation and obscenity section to issue national Jane and John Doe arrest warrants to get to the perpetrators and the victims.
The Sunflower case began in November 2011 after Danish law enforcement officials contacted the immigration agency's security investigations division about postings on a chat board indicating a 16-year-old boy was planning to rape an 11-year-old girl.
The suspect was soliciting advice on a pedophile board and posting images of the girl. One image showed a yellow sign depicting a sunflower graphic unique to Kansas.
For days, special agents drove along Kansas highways comparing images in the photos to locations and gathering other evidence. In 13 days, agents found the girl in a small Kansas town.
"The Kansas case had good detective work from an image provided to use by police in Denmark," Marwell said.
Operation Sunflower was conducted as part of Operation Predator, a nationwide Homeland Security Investigations initiative to protect children from sexual predators, including those traveling overseas for sex with minors, Internet child pornographers, criminal immigrant sex offenders and child sex traffickers.
In fiscal year 2012, 292 victims were identified or rescued in Homeland Security child pornography investigations. A record 1,655 suspects were arrested last year from the division's investigations, up from 1,335 in 2011 and 912 in 2010.
The number does not include hundreds of victims found by foreign law enforcement agencies as a result of the U.S. cases and leads, according to agency statistics.
Since 2003, the division has initiated more than 24,000 cases and arrested 8,720 people for child sex crimes.
Original Print Headline: 13 Tulsa teens identified as victims of exploitation
Ginnie Graham 918-581-8376