American Justice Notebook

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Feds: Eight New Child Exploitation Cases Were Filed in Recent Weeks

            LOS ANGELES 

In eight new cases filed in recent weeks – five resulting from FBI-led investigations and three from investigations led by Homeland Security Investigations – nine defendants are accused of exploiting children in person and on the internet.

There have been significant recent developments in other child exploitation cases being prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office, including a life sentence imposed on an offender who filmed his sexual assaults on disabled children.

            The cases announced today are part of Project Safe Childhood, the Justice Department’s longstanding initiative to combat the ongoing epidemic of child exploitation crimes.

“Protecting our children from sexual exploitation is some of the most important work my office does,” said U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada. “For years, we have vigorously prosecuted child sexual predators, and we have only increased those efforts recently. To those who would seek to victimize our youth, let me be clear: We will use every tool in our arsenal to bring you to justice and thereby stop you from causing further irreparable harm to others.”

“The various cases being announced today are a reminder of the constant threat of sexual extortion minors face, as well as the persistent demand for child pornography,” said FBI Assistant Director Alway, who runs the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “Whether an offender sexually abuses a child in person or online, or continues to exploit children by producing or sharing images of sexual abuse, the FBI and our partners will continue to seek justice for innocent victims by holding offenders accountable.”

“HSI Los Angeles is committed to removing sexual predators from our streets and working aggressively to hold them accountable for their heinous actions,” said HSI Acting Special Agent in Charge Wang.

            The new cases announced Monday are:

United States v. Griffin

Dakota R. Griffin, 33, of Benton, Illinois, was arrested on March 8 for allegedly coercing a 16-year-old girl he encountered online to produce child sexual abuse material (CSAM) by making her believe he was holding one of her online friends captive and that he was associated with the Ku Klux Klan.

The complaint alleges that Griffin further demanded that the victim travel to Illinois to have sex with him.

During their communications, Griffin allegedly threatened to kill her and her family. After learning that the victim suffered from seizures, Griffin told her that he had always wanted to sexually abuse “a girl while she had a seizure,” according to court documents.

During his initial appearance in a federal court in Illinois, Griffin was ordered detained pending trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeremiah Levine from the Violent and Organized Crime Section is prosecuting this matter.

United States v. Lozano

A criminal complaint filed Friday charges Ivan Lozano, a 36-year-old resident of Long Beach, with enticing a minor victim to commit sexual acts and possession of child pornography.

Over the course of nearly two years, starting when the victim was 14, Lozano allegedly encouraged and enticed a girl a residing in Tanzania to repeatedly send him videos and photos of a sexual nature using the WhatsApp social media application.

In October 2021, according to the complaint affidavit, Lozano traveled to Tanzania for the purpose of having sex with the girl, which he recorded on video.

Lozano is currently a fugitive being sought by the FBI, which conducted the investigation in this matter together with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Riordan from the Violent and Organized Crime Section is prosecuting case.

United States v. Sheehan

Dustan David Sheehan, 45, of Hollywood, surrendered on Friday after being named in a criminal complaint that accuses him of distributing child pornography and possession of and access with intent to view child pornography. In an August 2020 conversation with an undercover agent on the Kik internet messaging platform, Sheehan discussed his desire to meet and sexually abuse the undercover’s fictitious 9-year-old daughter, according to the complaint affidavit. Sheehan allegedly also shared sexually explicit images with the undercover agent.

During a subsequent search of Sheehan’s residence, investigators FBI identified approximately 2,919 CSAM images and 21 CSAM videos on Sheehan’s digital devices, the affidavit states.

During his initial appearance Friday afternoon, Sheehan was released on a $100,000 bond and was ordered to reside at a residential rehabilitation center.

The FBI is investigating this matter.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeffrey Chemerinsky and Hava Mirell from the Violent and Organized Crime Section are prosecuting this case.

United States v. Kicyla

A federal grand jury on March 8 returned a three-count indictment charging Nathan Kicyla with coercing a 10-year-old girl he encountered online to engage in sexually explicit conduct.

The indictment charges Kicyla with sexual exploitation of a child for the purpose of producing a sexually explicit visual depiction, enticement of a minor to engage in criminal sexual activity, and commission of a felony offense involving a minor while required to register as a sex offender.

If convicted, Kicyla faces up to 35 years in federal prison.

Kicyla, 39, of Van Nuys, whose screen name was “Nathan-Bert-2,” is currently in federal custody on a supervised release violation stemming from a 2007 conviction of sexual exploitation of minors in the Eastern District of California.

. Assistant United States Attorney Kevin Butler from the Violent and Organized Crimes Section is prosecuting this case.

United States v. Johnson

Ian Nathanial Johnson, 36, of Santa Clarita, was arrested Friday after prosecutors filed a criminal complaint charging him with distribution and possession of child pornography.

The investigation into Johnson was launched after the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received information that Johnson had uploaded CSAM to a Dropbox account, according to the complaint affidavit.

According to a search warrant, agents seized Johnson’s digital devices and discovered over 200 images of child pornography and chats on Telegram, several of which included images of prepubescent children and children in bondage, the affidavit states. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Catharine Richmond from the Violent and Organized Crime Section is prosecuting this case.

United States v. Anderson and Thomas

Norrell Alan Anderson, 24, of San Francisco, and Raeonnah Raina Thomas, 20, of Santa Rosa, were named in a criminal complaint filed on March 3, alleging they conspired to transport minors across state lines to prostitute them.

Anderson and Thomas are currently in state custody on charges that have been brought by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lyndsi Allsop from the Violent and Organized Crime Section and Kristin Spencer from the Santa Ana Branch Office are prosecuting this matter.

United States v. Gissell

Thomas Gissell, 27, of Moorpark, was arrested on March 6 on charges of attempted enticement of a minor to engage in criminal sexual activity for allegedly soliciting sexually explicit photos from two individuals he thought were 14-year-old girls. But were undercover agents. Gissell is scheduled to be arraigned on April 11.

 Assistant U.S. Attorney Kellye Ng from the Violent and Organized Crime Section is prosecuting this matter. 

United States v. White

Parker William White, 22, of Johnsonville, New York, a former Army private based at Fort Irwin, was indicted by a federal grand jury on Friday on possession of child pornography.

White was arrested on Feb. 24 under a criminal complaint that alleges White used Instagram and other social media platforms to find minor “girlfriends” as young as 14. White would groom these minor girls by telling them he would treat them like “queens,” according to the complaint’s affidavit. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lyndsi Allsop from the Violent and Organized Crime Section is prosecuting this matter.

There have been developments recently in other child exploitation cases being prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office. Those cases are:

United States v. Dorame

Francisco Anthony Dorame, 41, of Echo Park, was sentenced on March 8 to 20 years in federal prison for using an online messenger app last year to attempt to traffic two children sexually – ages 7 and 9 – and for distributing sexually explicit images of children.

Dorame was also sentenced to a lifetime period of supervised release and ordered to pay $33,000 in restitution to 11 victims.

Dorame pleaded guilty in October 2022 to one count of attempted sex trafficking of a child under 14 years old and one count of distribution of child pornography.

            During a conversation on the Kik platform, Dorame made two payments totaling $100 to a person who had access to the victims.

Among other things, Dorame requested photographs of the victims, expressed his desire to “play with them right away” upon meeting up, and set a specific date, time and location for the meeting.

In April 2022, Dorame used Kik to distribute sexually explicit images of children between 4 and 6.

            “[Dorame’s] lifelong and dangerous obsession with girls has manifested in an extensive collection of child sex abuse material, several attempts to procure girls for sex acts, and inappropriate relationships with then-minors,” prosecutors argued in a sentencing memorandum. “[Dorame’s] possession and dissemination of child sex abuse material are not victimless crimes, either. Here, the real victims portrayed in the child sex abuse material defendant possessed and distributed provide heartbreaking accounts of the harm they have suffered, and continue to suffer.”

    Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathy Yu from the Violent and Organized Crime Section prosecuted this case.

United States v. Rodriguez, Bocardo and Banguguilan

Two men found guilty by a jury last year of receiving and possessing videos of sexual assaults of severely disabled children were sentenced on February 24 to lengthy prison terms.

Miguel Bocardo, 23, of Baldwin Park, was sentenced by United States District Judge John W. Holcomb to 18 years in federal prison. Cyr Dino Banguguilan, 36, of Azusa, was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Their co-defendant – Steve Rodriguez, 38, of Pomona – systematically raped at least three disabled children for years while working as a certified nursing assistant at a group home facility in San Bernardino County.

Rodriguez filmed these repeated attacks and sent some of these child pornography films to others, including Bocardo and Banguguilan.

Rodriguez pleaded guilty to eight child exploitation offenses and in January 2023 was sentenced to life in federal prison.

 Assistant U.S. Attorneys Catharine Richmond and Scott Lara from the Violent and Organized Crime Section prosecuted this case.

United States v. Schmitt

Matthew Timothy Schmitt, 36, of Fontana, was sentenced on March 6 to 135 months in federal prison for attempted enticement of a minor for sexual purposes.

Schmitt was arrested after communicating with an undercover agent, whom Schmitt believed was a 13-year-old girl, and travelling to Riverside for sex with the minor.

The court also ordered that Schmitt serve a lifetime period of supervised release.

Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Kaitlyn Lasater from the Riverside Branch Office prosecuted this case.

United States v. Bradford

Donavin Dwayne Bradford, 31, of South Los Angeles, was charged in a superseding indictment filed on February 24 with sex trafficking four victims, including three minors (ages 15 to 17), and an adult victim, whom Bradford allegedly trafficked using threats of force, fraud, and coercion. Bradford is also charged with producing and possessing child pornography featuring his trafficking victims.

Bradford allegedly advertised his victims on the internet and instructed them to walk “blades,” areas are commonly known for prostitution, to make money for him.

He also allegedly used violence and threats of violence to control his victims. Bradford is detained pending a trial scheduled to begin on April 11.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Chelsea Norell and Kathy Yu from the Violent and Organized Crime Section are prosecuting this case.

Every defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

           The charges of enticing a minor victim to commit sexual acts and producing child pornography carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in federal prison and a statutory maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.

            The charges of distributing and receiving child pornography carry a five-year mandatory minimum sentence and a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

            Possession of child pornography does not carry a mandatory minimum sentence, but a conviction on this charge can bring a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison.

            The charge of conspiracy to transport minors across state lines for the purpose of prostitution carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison and a statutory maximum penalty of life imprisonment.