'Operation April Fools' battles child porn

Published: Tuesday, May 5 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Utahns sneaking a peek at child pornography can expect a knock at their door one of these days — just like several Utahns did during last month's "Operation April Fools Day."

That's what the Utah Internet Crimes Against Children task force dubbed its intense, monthlong investigation that cracked down on several Internet predators.

"For Operation April Fools' the joke was on Internet predators who thought they could get away with it," Attorney General Mark Shurtleff noted. "Anyone who has anything to do with child pornography is clearly a fool and a real threat to children."

Officers have already arrested five men for allegedly trafficking child pornography during the April operation and are looking into about 25 more suspects.

"More investigation work will be done on the (arrested) suspects' computers and charges are expected against another 15 defendants," said Paul Murphy, Utah Attorney General's Office spokesman.

During the task force's previous — and also wittily named — operation, March Madness, officers served seven search warrants and seized 37 computers.

"This was a team effort to try and end the sexual exploitation of children in Utah," says Capt. Rhett McQuiston, Utah ICAC Task Force director. "I am hoping we made a real dent."

Overtime expenses for Operation April Fools and Operation March Madness were funded by a large donation from the private foundation, Operation Kids.

For information on the task force, or details on keeping you child safe while online visit www.attorneygeneral.utah.gov/internet_safety.html.

E-MAIL: jhancock@desnews.com

How their investigation works

The agency's advanced computer system, which can also be publicly bought and used, scans the Internet for keywords and then automatically prints off a list of suspicious IP addresses daily. The task force then takes the IP address to the Internet provider and subpoenas the company for the identity of the Internet subscriber. ICAC agents then knock on the suspected person's door, sometimes with a warrant, and seizes computers in the home for their investigation. State prosecutors traditionally have an extremely high rate of convictions on such Internet cases, as high as 98 percent, according to Capt. Rhett McQuiston.

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