Dozens arrested in Ga. child porn crackdown

ATLANTA - A massive child pornography crackdown this week netted results all across Georgia, as authorities arrested 53 people, executed 80 search warrants and seized nearly 300 computers in what is being described as an all-out effort to stifle the illegal business.

The statewide bust called Operation Restore Hope began Tuesday, the culmination of a three-month effort to track the spread of online child pornography. It is a follow-up to an operation last year in which 27 people were arrested and more than 100 computers seized.

It homed in on computer users who share child pornography online for free, using peer-to-peer software, said John Whitaker, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent who led the operation.

His office has so far pinpointed 50,000 separate IP addresses - the Web equivalent of a street address or phone number - that are trading child pornography. He said Georgia's tally is the fifth-highest number in the nation.

"Even though we have other problems in Georgia, this is a major problem here compared with other states," said Whitaker. "And we're trying our best to move forward with this operation with as many resources as we have."

The operation involved 24 local agencies, federal prosecutors offices and the state Attorney General's Office. It also included the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Postal Service.

The arrests spanned the state. In southeast Georgia's Effingham County, for instance, two suspects were arrested on child pornography charges. And authorities in west Georgia's Paulding County said the sting netted them two arrests as well.

Whitaker said one of the more disturbing cases was in DeKalb County, where authorities found a child who said she had been sexually abused for the last eight years. The suspect, John Kemker, was charged with child sexual exploitation, incest and aggravated child molestation, DeKalb County Police spokeswoman Mekka Parish said.

State investigators, meanwhile, are already beginning to shift their focus to the next raid.

"It took us three months to gather our target list and now we're moving forward," Whitaker said. "We're going to wrap this one up and we'll start right on another one."