Man charged with running ‘child exploitation' ring

In a wide-ranging child pornography investigation that has ensnared dozens of defendants across the country, federal prosecutors have charged a St. Tammany Parish man with running two illegal websites that victimized hundreds of young boys and offered tutorials to more than 27,000 members on how to dupe minors into creating sexually explicit videos.

Jonathan Scott Johnson, 27, of Abita Springs, is accused of masterminding a “child exploitation enterprise” that involved some 2,000 pornographic videos, according to court records unsealed this week. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Orleans said Wednesday that federal prosecutors have charged 10 other people in the case, including a New Orleans man who is accused of filming a 14-year-old boy masturbating and sharing the footage online.

“This joint investigation has resulted in over 25 additional defendants being arrested and charged with various state and federal charges throughout the United States, and approximately 160 child victims have been identified and/or rescued by law enforcement officials,” said Anna Christman, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite Jr., in an email.

The case offers a disturbing glimpse at the expanding world of child pornography. Court filings describe a sophisticated network in which Johnson collected thousands of illicit videos and assumed fake female personas on social networking sites to entice and film underage boys. His websites provided tips to members on how to avoid police detection and, according to court records, offered tutorials “on ways to communicate with minor boys in order to coerce them into creating sexually explicit videos.”

A federal grand jury indicted Johnson on 14 counts last year, but the proceedings remained under seal for months as investigators sought to identify other website administrators and several hundred victims. Johnson is scheduled to stand trial later this year, but prosecutors filed a superseding bill of information Tuesday, a move that typically means a defendant has decided to cooperate with the authorities.

Johnson faces a minimum sentence of at least 20 years behind bars if convicted as charged. His defense attorney did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Investigators with the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations and U.S. Postal Inspection Service searched Johnson’s residence last May and determined he had been trading pornographic files and communicating with other website users about creating fake online profiles.

One user, Stanley Zdon III, 27, of Tuckerton, N.J., is accused of filming more than 300 videos of children between the ages of 8 and 13 and using female aliases, like “Samantha Kesser,” to target victims. Polite’s office has charged Zdon with conspiring to produce child pornography.

In a June court filing, prosecutors said Johnson himself “may be personally responsible for the production of over 3,000 videos of child pornography.” As administrator of the websites, which are not named in court documents, Johnson regulated their membership and required users to register before they could download files, exchange private messages or comment on videos.

While the websites attracted members from around the globe, the investigation led agents to Christopher M. Schwab, a 25-year-old New Orleans man charged with several counts of producing child pornography. In one explicit video uploaded online, law enforcement identified a teen being directed to masturbate inside a Ford Mustang near Bonnabel High School in May 2011.

Schwab allegedly admitted to performing a sex act on another minor and video-chatting with boys on Skype. Court records show he is expected to plead guilty next month.

The other defendants charged in New Orleans federal court as part of the case are: Daniel N. Devor, 39, of Brunswick, Ga.; John C. Foster, 44, Tipp City, Ohio; Aung Gaw, 25, Fremont, Calif.; Sean Jabbar, 32, Minneapolis; Christopher Jamieson, 30, Douglasville, Ga.; Andrew J. Korpal, 29, Granger, Ind.; Nicholas Saine, 27, Seattle; and Vittorio Francesco Gonzalez-Castillo, 26, Tucson, Ariz.