State Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa announced the arrest today of 27 people, including an 18-year-old Livingston resident, on child pornography charges.
At a morning press conference, Chiesa said the operation -- dubbed “Operation Watchdog” -- brought together the State Police and local police departments between April 9 and April 13 in sting operations aimed at disrupting peer-to-peer file-sharing sites. The state Division of Criminal Justice had been investigating and attaining warrants since January.
Jeremy Gardner of Livingston, was arrested on April 9 and released of his own recognizance. Of the remaining 26, one is female, one a minor and the oldest is 66. Two of the suspects are charged with distribution as well as possession.
Charles E. Jones, the superintendent of public works in Morristown, was among those arrested.
Only six are being detained, with the remaining 21 being released of their own recognizance.
A full list of the names, ages, and hometowns of those arrested has been made available online.
Through the cooperation of the FBI, the State Police had two “cyber crime” facilities at their disposal to carry out Operation Watchdog: the Regional Computer Forensics Lab and the undercover room for the Digital Technology Investigation Unit.
The undercover room is where detectives pose online as children in sting operations aimed at arresting child pornographers. These rooms had never been open to the press before today.
Detective Sgt. First Class Chuck Allen was at the forefront of the digital investigation and said these two facilities were crucial to the operation.
He said the facilities allowed any of the 100 investigating officers on the case to tap into “peer-to-peer” file sharing sites -- where the majority of child pornography is distributed and accessed -- and trace users’ IP addresses, as well as thoroughly investigate the photo and video evidence acquired from the sites.
“It’s far too easy to find on the Internet,” Detective Sgt. Allen said.
So are the users themselves, according to Chiesa.
“Using a file-sharing site is like having your child pornography collection on your front stoop,” he said. “By leaving it open, you allow others to take your files. We are watching.”
Although the police investigation has been successful, there are still countless victimized children whose likenesses will forever hang in this dark corner of cyberspace, Chiesa said.
“I have no idea what would lead someone to manufacture it,” Attorney General Chiesa said. “It’s repulsive. We stand prepared to talk to victims, and we appreciate the severity of their pain.”
The 27 people arrested are all from New Jersey, though Operation Watchdog did turn up some IP addresses that were out of state. According to Detective Sergeant Allen, those leads were passed to the national Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC), where a local ICAC branch would pick up the investigation.
“We arrest and prosecute,” Attorney General Chiesa said. “It is up to the courts to detain.”
While these cases work their way through the court system, Allen and the regional ICAC task force are trying to make children aware of the potential dangers of the Internet.
“We perform internet safety presentations to parents and schoolchildren all over the state,” he said.