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SLO County justice system sees increase in child pornography cases

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Other than his slightly dazed expression, 19-year-old Elliott Masami Yu Jing Kasadate looks relativity normal in his mug shot. Identified on his social media pages as a Cal Poly student, Kasadate, has a face you wouldn’t look twice at if he passed you on a busy downtown SLO street or on the way to class on campus.

But SLO police arrested Kasadate June 9. Police said they discovered several images and videos of minors engaged in sexual conduct on his computer and other electronic devices. Some of the children in the material were as young as 8 or 10 years old, police alleged.

Kasadate is the latest, but certainly not the first individual to face charges related to child pornography in the SLO County. On April 1, SLO police arrested 21-year-old Philippe Estines for alleged possession and distribution of photos and videos depicting children involved in lewd acts. On March 30, Eugene Virgil Rominger, 51, was arrested after detectives with the SLO County Sheriff’s Office said they found several hundred images and videos on computers and other devices in his Paso Robles home. Weeks earlier, on March 11, SLO police arrested another local man, 57-year-old Christopher Daniel Kluck. A forensic analysis of Kluck’s computers, hard drives, and other electronic devices yielded “ten of thousands” of files; some featuring victims between the ages of 10 and 17, according to investigators.

More arrests are likely to follow in the latter half of this year. In fact, the number of cases involving charges of possession or distribution of child pornography filed by the SLO County District Attorney’s Office has already eclipsed the number filed last year. Assistant District Attorney Lee Cunningham said the office filed 12 child pornography related cases by early June of this year. The office filed 11 cases total last year.

“We filed as many in first half of this year than all of 2014,” he said.

Cunningham said he believed the increase in cases is the result of two factors: The rise in Internet use by offender’s posting and sharing the illegal material and better training, technology, and tools for the law enforcement agents tasked to find and arrest them.

“It’s a cat-and-mouse game, and law enforcement is constantly investigating,” Cunningham said.

SLO County has a few such investigators. They’re detectives who work with and receive training from the Central California Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC). The task force is a federally grant-funded organization, and is one of 61 such task forces in the United States. The Central California ICAC covers nine counties from Kern to Merced and focuses on cyber crime involving child victims. The task force has 59 affiliated law enforcement agencies it works with, including SLOPD, the Arroyo Grande Police Department, and the SLO County Sheriff’s Office.

Jeff Kertson, a Fresno County sheriff’s sergeant and commander of the Central California ICAC, credited the rise in arrests and prosecutions in SLO County to teamwork and communication between the task force-trained investigators and their respective agencies. That inter-agency cooperation was a factor in several of SLO County’s recent child pornography arrests. Kasadate’s arrest began with a task forced-trained detective in Arroyo Grande passing on a tip about the crime to SLOPD.

“Because of the Internet, these kinds of crimes can very easily cross jurisdictions,” Kertson said. “Having that teamwork and open lines of communication just simplifies the process, and you can act quickly on an investigation.”

Kertson said that the increase in child pornography cases wasn’t confined to SLO County. Last year, the task force recorded 776 investigations of “cyber crime” involving child victims in its nine-county area compared to just 346 in 2010.

“In the last five years we’ve doubled the number of investigations,” he said. “It goes up every year.”

Tips to the task force increased from 144 to 579 during the same time period. Some of those tips came from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Unsurprisingly the center, which operates its own tip line, experienced a similar increase of reports of online sexual exploitation of children. John Shehan, vice president for the center’s exploited child division, said the center received 1.1 million reports from the tip line in 2014.

“We surpassed that number in the first three months of 2015,” he said.

Shehan added that many of those tips come from Internet service providers, websites, and other electronic communication companies self-reporting illegal material posted on their websites. Federal law requires those providers and companies to report child pornography or any other sexually explicit material involving minors posted on their sites to the center.

“This kind of material is shared on nearly every aspect of the Internet,” Shehan said. “Social media, peer-to-peer, newsgroups, and file sharing sites. Honestly, any type of service that allows [users] to post images and videos will be misused for this type of crime.”

Tips from the center can be passed to the regional ICAC task forces, which can hand them to investigators with local law enforcement agencies. With the sheer volume of tips coming in, the challenge, according to Shehan, is the limited resources of law enforcement agencies to follow up on all of them.

“There are far more cases coming through than law enforcement can investigate,” he said. “Millions of cases are just coming through the cyber tip line, but there simply aren’t enough trained investigators to handle these types of cases.”

Those challenges are unlikely to stop investigators like Kertson, who is all too aware of the impact such crimes have on young victims.

“It’s not just a picture; it means that somewhere there is a child that’s being sexually abused,” he said. “These Internet crimes are one of the few types of crimes where you actually have a chance to intervene and rescue a victim.”


Staff Writer Chris McGuinness can be reached at cmcguinness@newtimesslo.com or on Twitter @CWMcGuinness.

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