SOUTH JORDAN The sounds of little children playing nearby carried in the breeze as agents from the Utah Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force raided a home for suspected child pornography.
It was in quiet neighborhoods like this where "Operation Spring Cleaning" was carried out over the past several days, serving 17 warrants for computers and suspects accused of accessing illicit images. Three people were arrested including a former elementary school teacher.
"It is disturbing. I'd be lying to say it didn't bug me," ICAC agent Coy Acocks said as he prepared to search a home for computers.
The operation was the culmination of weeks of investigations into downloading and trading of pictures and videos of children being sexually exploited.
"We've gone after individuals who seem to be trading on a regular basis and are very highly involved in what we believe is the trafficking of illegal images," said Capt. Rhett McQuiston, the commander of the attorney general's ICAC Task Force.
As they prepared for the operation, Lt. Jessica Farnsworth taped up photographs of a suspect's home. She covered points as officers reviewed briefing sheets. One agent was wrapping up a last-minute arrest warrant and others were preparing to fan out across the Salt Lake Valley.
"Time is wastin'!" Farnsworth shouted to her team. "Perpetrators are out there!"
As agents surrounded the townhouse in a subdivision under development in Herriman, two LDS missionaries and a group of children stopped to watch the police activity.
Officers knocked on the door and as soon as it opened, they swarmed inside. Minutes later, Curtis Scharman kept his head down and said nothing as he was led to a police car.
ICAC agents said Scharman, 25, a former teacher at West Jordan's Oak Crest Elementary, was arrested on charges of attempted sexual exploitation of a minor, a third-degree felony.
According to an affidavit filed with the criminal charges, ICAC agents were contacted by a woman who was baby-sitting Scharman's infant son and had been lent a laptop by his wife. The baby sitter found files describing sex acts with children on the computer and called police. ICAC agents noted in charging documents, however, that no child pornography images were ever recovered from the computer.
Scharman was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail and made his first appearance in court to the charges on Monday. The Jordan School District said Scharman had been placed on administrative leave in January and his employment was subsequently terminated. McQuiston said ICAC was still investigating to see if he had any inappropriate contact with students.
Most of the people arrested on suspicion of downloading child pornography know the knock on the door is coming. They have been questioned before, their computers have been seized. The arrests can't be made right away because it takes so long to get the forensic lab results back, so ICAC agents keep in regular contact with their suspects.
"In a way we act as their probation agents," Farnsworth said, adding that in one case she had a suspect call her regularly to keep in touch. Some suspects commit suicide rather than be faced with the prospect of prison time, agents said.
Farnsworth drove quickly into the South Salt Lake apartment complex, a convoy of unmarked vehicles behind her. Clad in bulletproof vests with their guns at the ready, the agents moved up to a second-floor apartment and knocked on the door.
"Police! Open up!" officers shouted.
The man answered and the agents ran inside. Eventually, 30-year-old David Simpson was led out in handcuffs. Simpson has been charged with second-degree felony sexual exploitation of a minor, accused of trading images of child pornography.
"The Australian federal police had done an undercover operation and took down a major porn ring," Farnsworth said. "They only had a screen name and they contacted the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children."
The center investigated the screen name, leading it to contact the Utah Attorney General's Office. ICAC agents questioned Simpson and seized his computers. Forensic analysis of his computers led to the discovery of illicit images and the arrest warrant. Simpson is scheduled to appear in court on Thursday.
Search and seizure
At an apartment in Murray, agents carried out computer towers, CDs, iPods and a Playstation console as part of a search warrant executed for child porn anything that could store an image or a file.
Outside the apartment, agents questioned a man and a woman about what may have been downloaded or traded.
"Through investigative software that's out there for law enforcement, we're able to monitor those kinds of things," said ICAC agent Steve Gamvroulas, adding that law enforcement tries to track types of files featuring children that are traded back and forth by people seeking child porn.
There is no typical profile of a child pornography user, Acocks said.
"It can be about anybody," he said, noting that they have arrested schoolteachers, firefighters and other working professionals.
It is difficult to quantify the level of the problem in Utah, but agents say the state is considered "nirvana" for a child predator. Child pornography Web sites are growing rapidly across the globe, and exploitation is a multi-billion-dollar business.
As they wrapped up several days of serving warrants, McQuiston said the computers seized will lead to more warrants."It's kind of the end of one part of the investigation," he said. "But it's going to kick up a whole new one."
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