At least 12 arrested in porn raids

Effort targets exploitation of children via the Internet

Staff WriterJune 14, 2005 

People who download child pornography in North Carolina learned Monday that the state might be watching.

Using new software that tracks those who share child porn through the Internet, the State Bureau of Investigation blanketed the state with 58 search warrants during the past week. Previous anti-porn efforts often have focused instead on those who created the illicit images.

At least 12 suspects were arrested, and charges in other cases are pending based on review of seized "computer evidence," said Noelle Talley, spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office, which controls the SBI.

"SBI agents have been able to bust dozens of suspects who thought they were safe sitting behind a computer screen," Attorney General Roy Cooper said in a news release Monday.

Law enforcement officers in 32 counties, including Wake and Durham, worked with federal and state agents to locate Internet addresses in North Carolina that were used to share child pornography videos or pictures. Of the 58 locations searched, four were in Wake County. At least one search led to the arrest of a Triangle resident, the Attorney General's Office said.

Kelvin Maurice Smith, 38, of Knightdale was arrested Monday and charged with 10 counts of third-degree exploitation of a minor, arrest warrants said. Smith was being held Monday night at the Wake jail with bail set at $100,000 cash.

Items were seized from residences in Raleigh and Durham, but arrest information on them was not available Monday.

The investigation focused on peer-to-peer software such as Kazaa and Gnutella, which allow registered users to share files with one another, according to search warrants. Users of such software have been targeted in the past for sharing illegal copies of software and music.

Peer-to-peer networks have become ideal for traders in child pornography to share their collections, one agent wrote in a search warrant.

In October 2004, SBI agents began to use software specially created for the undercover operation to search for Internet-connected computers that shared child porn through peer-to-peer networks, according to a search warrant. Agents could then see which North Carolina residents might have downloaded sexually explicit videos and photos depicting minors, according to the warrants.

Of the 12 arrests made in connection with the 58 search warrants, most involved felony charges of second-degree or third-degree exploitation of a minor, according to the Attorney General's Office. A second-degree exploitation charge involves the distribution of child porn; a third-degree charge is issued when child porn is downloaded or collected.

The child-porn searches and arrests came in the midst of the state legislature's budget considerations.

Cooper has asked legislators to expand the SBI Computer Crimes Unit by seven agents, Talley said. Four of the agents would work in the field; three would recover and analyze information from computers submitted to the SBI lab. On Friday, the state House indicated it would include money for all seven agents in its budget.

The Child Exploitation Prevention Act, which has passed the House and Senate, would make it a felony for an adult to solicit over the Internet anyone he or she believes is a minor. Under current law, that is a misdemeanor.

In addition, the measure would require convicted offenders to provide DNA samples for the state's convicted offender database, according to the Attorney General's Office.

Staff writer Jennifer Brevorka can be reached at 836-4906 or jbrevork@newsobserver.com.

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