Operation Swipe Left resulted in criminal charges against more than a dozen people involved in a "cross-country network of people sexually exploiting children," the Chicago Sun-Times reported Thursday.
A federal judge called some of the allegations "horrific." Allegations include livestreamed abuse, kidnapping threats, and production of child pornography.
"When agents raided one suspect's home, video depicting the sexual abuse of an infant was allegedly playing on screen."
"This is not a victimless crime," Cook County Circuit Judge Mary Marubio stressed. Victims, four of whom were rescued in "real time," range in age from six months to 17 years.
Who was arrested and where?
Arrests in the sweep include Norris "Nick" Stauffer, 27, of Chicago and at least 16 others. Charges were brought in Arizona, Wisconsin, Washington, D.C., California, and South Africa. Nine have already been sentenced to prison time, per the Sun-Times' reporting.
Stauffer's attorney, Kevin Bolger, denies that his client produced child pornography and denies that his case has to do with Telegram.
Former Trump administration official and former Turning Point USA employee Adam Hageman is among the defendants, Ars Technica reported. Following Hageman's arrest and guilty plea in 2020 for receiving child sexual abuse materials, he granted investigators access to his Telegram group chats. That access, in turn, led to charges filed against a dozen others.
Ars Technica says Homeland Security Investigations verified the accuracy of all the Sun-Times' statements.
Ruben Verastigui, a former RNC staffer, is also on the list of defendants.
Defendants reportedly include include a youth soccer coach, a grocery store employee, an amusement park employee, and the son of a police officer.
Others charged include Raymond Glover, Sebastian Protel, Zachary Marsh, Devin Parrish, Tyler Ehredt, Jesus Jimenez-Cornejo, Ryan Hoberg, Edgar Martinez, Shawn Grenier, Ryan Showell, Marthinus Gerhardus Lourens, and Quentin Joseph Carbajal.
When did this happen?
The investigation began June 12, 2020, after Royal Canadian Mounted Police discovered a child sexual abuse video with embedded geographic data that pointed to Arizona. The Sun-Times' reporting was based on "recently unsealed" Cook County court documents, per Ars Technica.
How were the DHS and HSI involved?
The sweep, dubbed Operation Swipe Left, was the work of Homeland Security Investigations, the Sun-Times reported.
HSI is the "principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security." The agency's mission is to "investigate, disrupt and dismantle terrorist, transnational and other criminal organizations." Child exploitation is listed among the wide array of transnational crimes HSI is tasked with investigating.
What is Telegram?
Telegram is an encrypted, cross-platform, cloud-based instant messaging app. It was launched in October 2013 and currently has more than 700 million monthly active users, according to the app's website. The app can be used on smartphones, tablets, and computers.Like Blaze News? Bypass the censors, sign up for our newsletters, and get stories like this direct to your inbox. Sign up here!