A family vacation photo from northern Minnesota helped federal investigators identify and convict an Illinois woman for producing and distributing child pornography.
On Nov. 15, 48-year-old Ann Marie Piper, was sentenced in Illinois to 25 years in federal prison and a lifetime of supervised release.
The images that led to Piper's arrest in Springfield, Ill. in May 2012 were first discovered by special agents in Oregon in October 2011 in an unrelated case. The images were submitted to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, leading investigators to a resort in Richville, Minn.
With the help of the resort's owners, special agents were able to quickly identify the people involved, and ultimately led to Piper's arrest.
That was just one of several child exploitation cases resulting from a national operation concluded by U.S. Homeland Security Investigations in December.
In all, 123 victims of child sexual exploitation were identified by special agents during the international operation. Of that number, 44 children were directly rescued from their abusers and 79 were identified as either being exploited by others outside of their home or are now adults who were victimized as children.
Homeland Security launched Operation Sunflower in November 2012 to commemorate the one-year anniversary in which the identification of a sunflower-shaped highway road sign led to the rescue of an 11-year-old girl in Kansas. Operation Sunflower was executed through the first week of December 2012, but victim identification and rescue efforts are ongoing under the department's Operation Predator.
"The sexual abuse of young children, often at the hands of people they trust, is a particular wrong," said ICE Director John Morton. "Whenever our investigations reveal the production and distribution of new child pornography online, we will do everything we can to rescue the victim and prosecute the abuser even if takes us years or around the world to do it. A relentless fight against child exploitation is the only answer."
Homeland Security and partner law enforcement agencies made 245 arrests during the operation, which took place Nov. 1 to Dec. 7. Of the 123 victims, 110 were identified in 19 U.S. states.
ABOUT THE VICTIMS
HELP NEEDED TO SOLVE CASES
The public's help is being sought with any leads that can help provide clues in several cases and rescue more victims. Images and information available on suspects in those cases can be found at http://www.ice.gov/predator/suspect-alerts.htm and tips can be submitted to ICE at http://www.ice.gov/exec/forms/hsi-tips/tips.asp.
For general information on Operation Sunflower, click here.