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INTERNET CHILD PORN GROWING
CRACKDOWN NABS PEOPLE FROM ALL WALKS OF LIFE, INCLUDING PRIEST AND OFFICER

One suspect was a Varysburg priest who had served for three decades without a hint of scandal.

Another was a Hamburg cop, married with two kids.

The other was a popular art teacher in the Kenmore-Tonawanda school system.

In addition to being liked and respected in their communities, the Rev. Fred D. Ingalls, Hamburg Officer George Adymy and Jeffrey Hart had something else in common -- a secret, dangerous fascination with child pornography.

They are three of seven local men arrested this year on federal charges of possessing or distributing child pornography on the Internet. A comparable number -- including a retired judge in Orleans County, a teacher at a Catholic school in Niagara Falls and Wellsville's former town supervisor -- have been arrested on similar state charges.

"I think the public is surprised by these arrests," said Peter J. Smith, a federal agent who oversees a cybercrime laboratory in Cheektowaga. "But we're not. We've seen involvement by people from all walks of life."

A recent run of local arrests is part of an aggressive nationwide crackdown aimed at anyone who produces, views or transmits child pornography. At least 34 people -- all men -- have been prosecuted for such activities by U.S. Justice Department attorneys in Buffalo since 1998.

Almost every one has taken plea deals, and not one has been acquitted. Last year, tougher federal penalties went into effect, establishing five-year mandatory minimum sentences for anyone convicted of receiving pornographic images of children.

Activity closely watched

Still, day after day, men all across the country sign on to their computers and spend time looking at Internet images of children posing nude or being sexually assaulted.

"With all the arrests, all the publicity, people are still doing it," said Smith, a supervisor of investigations for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "We've had some major arrests, and there will be more.

"We're monitoring this activity, every day. If you're talking to someone in a chat room about it, you may be talking to one of our undercover agents."

"You're playing with fire when you dabble with this material," said Paul J. Campana, chief of white-collar crime prosecutions in the U.S. Attorney's office. The federal government's hard line has prompted some defense attorneys and First Amendment supporters to raise questions.

Is it justifiable to give a longer prison term to someone who looks at child pornography on his home computer than someone who physically molests or rapes a child?

Should the person who views child pornography be treated as a sick individual needing treatment, or as a criminal?

Should law enforcement agencies invest more resources in prosecuting those who produce and sell child pornography, and fewer resources finding those who view it in their homes?

"I would never suggest that child pornography should be legal. Absolutely not," said Rodney O. Personius, the attorney for Ingalls. "But for people who are only looking at it, I think the federal penalties are far too severe."

Dr. Alex C. Halavais, a professor of communication at the University at Buffalo, maintains that only the producers of child pornography -- not those who view it or transmit it to others -- should face arrests and jail time.

"I realize my view is extreme," Halavais said. "When I ask 200 students if they support free speech, they all raise their hands. When I ask them if they support the right of someone to look at child pornography, I lose just about everybody."

How could anyone derive pleasure from watching the sexual abuse of children?

"The Internet makes it so easy and so available. Many of these people start out by looking at adult pornography that they think is harmless," said Dr. David G. Heffler, a psychotherapist who counsels sexual offenders involved in local court cases.

"I've counseled people who say they started out with no intention of looking at child pornography, but there was a constant search to find more unusual things to arouse themselves. They look for images of younger and younger people, and eventually, they get addicted."

The explosion in Internet child pornography worries Heffler.

"If you're looking at this stuff, there's a child out there somewhere whose life has been devastated by what you're watching for entertainment. It often destroys the families of those who are using it," Heffler said. "And it is not unusual for people who are looking at child pornography to take the next step, and become a molester."

Double-edged sword

Most men convicted of the federal charges serve at least two years in prison. State court records show that, in recent years, several area child molesters have served less than a year in prison. Niagara County District Attorney Matthew J. Murphy III explained that such situations can evolve from plea deals designed to protect young victims from testifying in court.

"There are times when you have a young child who was abused who is unable to testify, too scared to testify, or his parents won't let him take the stand," Murphy said. "You make the best deal you can, trying to keep that young victim off the witness stand."

That is a handicap that prosecutors rarely have to deal with on federal cases of Internet child pornography cases.

"When we go to court, we have the evidence and the images from the defendant's computer. We don't need a child to testify," said Jon Shumway, a Niagara Falls police officer assigned to Regional Computer Forensic Laboratory of Western New York. Customs agents and an Erie County Sheriff's deputy also work in the lab.

"The Internet is a double-edged sword," Shumway said. "It makes it much easier for people to look at child pornography, but it also makes it easier for us to track what they're doing and get the evidence."

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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