|Hamilton Twp., Mercer County, N.J. - Forty men including at least one from every county in New Jersey have been charged with possession of child pornography, New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino announced today at the State Police Technology Center. The six-month investigation, called Operation Statewide, was a proactive effort coordinated by the New Jersey Regional Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force. Of the 40 arrested, 37 have been charged with distribution of these images as well as possession. A number of seized computers each had more than 1,000 juvenile pornographic images and videos stored on them—one had more than 76,000 files.
The Operation Statewide law enforcement team, led by New Jersey State Police detectives, followed the digital fingerprint of known images of child porn as they were being sent and received over file sharing networks to specific computers. Internet addresses were traced to street addresses and detectives from partnering agencies knocked on the doors of many surprised defendants, one of whom was in the process of downloading child porn images.
“These offenders, by their actions, contribute in a very real and direct way to the cruel exploitation of innocent children, and that is why we remain tireless in our efforts to protect children by locking up these criminals,” said Attorney General Porrino. “The message that Operation Statewide delivers to these offenders is clear: It doesn’t matter where you live or whether you think you can hide your crimes by viewing these vile images in the dark seclusion of your home, we’re monitoring you on the Internet, and we will track you down and arrest you.”
“This type of operation is nothing new, yet people continue to ignore the arrests and seek this depraved material regardless of the impact to the children it victimizes, or to society at large,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “It’s widely accepted that a percentage of those obtaining child porn will be involved at some point in the sexual assault of children, so these arrests may actually prevent the abuse of some future victims,” Fuentes added.
Three years ago, Governor Christie signed a bill that strengthened New Jersey’s child pornography laws, bringing them closer in line with federal laws. The new laws include enhanced penalties based upon the number of items of child pornography (images or videos) possessed or distributed. The new law requires a five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence without possibility of parole for defendants convicted of distributing 25 or more items of child pornography. The new law also creates a presumption of imprisonment for defendants convicted of possessing 100 or more items of child pornography, making state prison a near certainty even for some first time offenders charged in this investigation.
Twenty of those arrested have already been charged with possession of 100 or more items based on on-site forensic previews of computer media. Those defendants, should they be convicted, will be subject to that statutory presumption of imprisonment. Nine men were so far charged with distributing 25 or more images based on the same previews. They could be facing a mandatory minimum of five years without parole in state prison if convicted, and thorough forensic examinations of seized media could place more defendants in this category.
State troopers executed a search warrant and arrested John Defay, Jr., 47 of Pitman, Gloucester County, on July 13. A preview of his computer equipment uncovered the largest collection of child pornography found in Operation Statewide. Detectives found more than 76,000 files with a complete backup system, which doubled the files in his possession. A large number of these were video files. This speaks to the amount of this material available on the web. Defay was charged with distribution and possession commensurate with the amount of material he stored or transmitted.
Shawn Bovasso, 47 of Howell, Monmouth County, had over 5,000 files of child pornography at the time of his arrest by detectives on July 15th. Troopers also found and seized two assault weapons from his residence. The assault weapons are being examined by firearms to determine if charges are appropriate.
Those arrested were from 20 to 72 years old. The defendants include a former teacher who taught in Delran, Bristol Twp., Pa., and Philadelphia; factory workers; an accountant; computer professionals; construction workers; salesmen; food service workers; and a custodian in the Long Branch School District. A large percentage are unemployed and two men are undocumented non-citizens.
In addition to the New Jersey State Police, the allied agencies participating in Operation Statewide include:
New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, who contributed investigators in addition to tremendous legal work on the numerous search and arrest warrants. They are also prosecuting many of the cases.
United States Homeland Security Investigations, both the Newark and Cherry Hill field offices
County Prosecutors’ Offices and Municipalities
Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office
Bayonne Police Department
Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office
Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office
Camden County Prosecutor’s Office
Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office
Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office
Essex County Prosecutor’s Office
Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office
Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office
Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office
Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office
Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office
Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office
Morris County Prosecutor’s Office
Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office
Passaic County Sheriff’s Department
Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office
Salem County Prosecutor’s Office
Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office
Springfield Police Department
Sussex County Prosecutor’s Office
Union County Prosecutor’s Office
Warren County Prosecutor’s Office