New York Fed prosecutors get child porn restitution Payments are meant as deterrent and to pay for victims' treatments

By Michael Virtanen

Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- Federal prosecutors intent on stemming child pornography and helping care for its victims are increasingly going after the assets of offenders under an evolving change in Justice Department policy.

In one of the most recent cases, a former provost marshal at the U.S. Army's sprawling Fort Drum in northern New York was sentenced to almost six years in prison for possessing and sharing child pornography and will soon pay $10,000 each to two victims identified from among more than 700 images of children he had.

The payments are meant to deter sharing images of exploited children and to help pay for their later psychiatric or other treatment, authorities said.

Federal prosecutors said there are thousands of cases nationally, the crime proliferating with the Internet. There are 163 open matters now in the Northern District of New York, ranging from criminal appeals to initial investigations that may become cases.

"I would say in our closed inventory, there are hundreds of cases. They've been convicted, sentenced and their conviction has been affirmed on appeal," said Assistant U.S. Attorney William Pericak, deputy chief of the criminal division in the district that stretches from the mid-Hudson Valley to the Canadian border and west to Syracuse and Binghamton.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa Fletcher prosecutes child porn cases almost exclusively, with another assistant at the Syracuse office assigned to help with the backlog. Federal prosecutors in three other offices are likewise busy, with ongoing federal investigations and referrals from county district attorneys.

"We're getting more and more people with hands-on offenses and more and more people trying to meet underage kids," Fletcher said.

According to the Justice Department, its project against exploitation of minors has increased prosecutions 40 percent since 2006, with 2,315 indictments filed against 2,427 defendants in 2009 and almost 9,000 charged altogether over four years. More than 3,000 victims of child pornography crimes were identified, with many rescued.

Fletcher prosecuted former Fort Drum Lt. Col. Christopher Butler, 44, whose December sentence included 25 years of post-release supervision. Butler pleaded guilty to two charges: transporting child pornography in interstate and foreign commerce and possessing it. While deployed in Iraq in 2008, he sent images by Internet to an undercover agent. More than 700 were found on his home computers at Fort Drum, where he was one of the officers responsible for law enforcement.

"I could have everybody in my office doing these cases full time," Fletcher said. "There really is that much out there."

While some offenders have challenged restitution, which began almost two years ago, and courts are still sorting out how to handle it, Butler agreed to pay $10,000 to each identified victim, Fletcher said. One, now 19, was rescued from an abuser at age 11. "Her picture is all over the Internet," the prosecutor said.

Defense attorney Thomas Cerio said Tuesday the payments are being processed. He said that Butler, married with children, expressed remorse at sentencing, for the victims and for letting his family and the country down. Butler also lost his pension. He wasn't producing pornography, Cerio said.

"The realization he came to is if it weren't for people looking for these types of things online there wouldn't be a market for them and hence there wouldn't be victims," Cerio said. "The fact is he had and is recovering from a sickness and is going through the treatment for it."

Fletcher also prosecuted Timothy Denis, 28, of North Syracuse, who was sentenced in November to almost 22 years in prison and lifetime supervision for possessing and receiving child pornography. Investigators said he also sent live webcam images of himself and his 5-year-old daughter. Judge David Hurd, who also sentenced Butler, left the restitution in Denis' case to be determined.

In other cases around the country, judges have approved victim payments ranging from $1,000 to $200,000.

Prosecutors in North Dakota decided in September to appeal U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson's rejection of nearly $3.7 million in restitution to two victims by Robert Scheiring. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison on charges of distribution and possession of child pornography. Authorities said they found more than 600,000 pictures and 2,400 videos.

"The main issue is taking a young child who is abused or photographed or videotaped. The videotape is passed around the Internet. How do you calculate the damage to that young child as the image is viewed?" Pericak said. "Suppose it's viewed by 100 or 1,000 or 150,000 people. Is there extra damage from each viewing?"

Prosecutors and victim advocates say that there clearly is harm done. The children grow up and wonder if the people they meet have seen the images. Some will end up with hundreds of thousands of dollars in psychiatric, psychological or other treatment bills from the trauma of abuse.

"These are crime scene photos. This has nothing whatever to do with free speech. It's not pornography at all," said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "This is a problem that has absolutely exploded with the advent of the Internet."

Following a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision that essentially found a real child had to be harmed for these cases to be actionable, Allen said the center has worked with authorities to review 44 million child porn images and videotapes and has identified 3,365 child victims. They have also worked with Internet service providers to remove content.

While federal courts have all found that child pornography victims are eligible for restitution, they have disagreed about amounts. "It will never be possible to arrest and prosecute everybody, but our hope is there will be some level of deterrence," he said.

Published: Thu, Jan 20, 2011