A monk from Riverside and an Australian man looking to buy a 6-year-old boy were among 238 people arrested during a two-month operation targeting child predators in Southern California, officials said Monday.
Conducted by the Los Angeles Regional Internet Crimes against Children task force, “Operation Broken Heart III” targeted offenders wanted for the sexual exploitation of children, child prostitution, sex tourism and possessing and distributing child pornography, said Deputy Chief Matt Blake of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Among those arrested during sweeps in April and May were entertainers, community leaders, white-collar professionals and clergy members, said John Reynolds, acting special agent in charge for U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations.
“The incidence of child sexual exploitation has reached staggering proportions,” he said at a news conference.
Law enforcement officials said the arrests underscore the importance of families maintaining an open dialogue about Internet safety.
“Parents and kids need to have frank conversations about how to stay safe in cyberspace,” Reynolds said.
Children and teens, he said, are spending more time on the Internet and social media sites, where child predators often look for victims.
The Los Angeles task force is one of 61 programs nationwide funded through the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Created in 2014, Operation Broken Heart gives law enforcement agencies and task forces an opportunity to combine resources and investigative tools to identify child sexual predators.The Los Angeles Police Department's Internet Crimes Against Children unit serves about 300 warrants each year in pursuit of child pornography suspects. In a high-rise building in Long Beach, 11 officers review an average of 350 child pornography cases a month.
Investigators use forensic equipment inside a mobile crime lab named "The Beast" to scan through hard drives for any illicit images.
In May, Michael Quinn, 33, traveled from Australia to Los Angeles to complete a deal to buy a 6-year-old boy for sex, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles.
Undercover agents met Quinn on a social media networking site, where he had communicated that he wanted to “meet up with a dad who shares his young one,” according to prosecutors.
“Quinn explained to the undercover agent he was hoping to meet ‘other pervs’ in the U.S. and ultimately agreed to pay a human trafficker $250 to provide him with a young boy with whom he could engage in illicit sex,” according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles.
Quinn went to a hotel in Los Angeles, where he planned to meet and party with three other child predators and engage in sex with boys, prosecutors said. Instead, undercover agents were waiting inside the hotel room.
After Quinn handed money to an agent, who was posing as a sex trafficker, law enforcement authorities entered the room and arrested him, prosecutors said.
Weeks later in Riverside, authorities arrested Kounzong Saebphang, 26, a monk, at his home in the Wat Lao Buddhist Monastery in Riverside.
Authorities were investigating Saebphang since last year when they received information that he was possibly distributing child pornography, according to the Riverside County district attorney’s office.
When federal investigators searched the monastery, they found at least one digital device containing child pornography in his belongings, prosecutors said. Prosecutors alleged he also distributed child pornography to another person through a social media site.