2005 Safety, Security and International Affairs

Susan Cantor and the Team

Oversaw the largest internet child pornography case ever investigated, putting more than 1,200 purchasers of explicit material behind bars.

Susan Cantor and her multi-agency, multi-national team cracked a case that involved more than 1,200 arrests, dozens of countries and one unspeakable crime—child pornography. Dubbed Operation FALCON, Cantor’s investigation was the largest internet child pornography case ever, and it has made countless children safer, locking up the purveyors of this illicit material and also putting behind bars numerous purchasers of this pornography who had direct access to children.

This landmark effort began in Newark, NJ, and the team included representatives from the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Department of Justice, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Postal Service and the local U.S. Attorney’s Office. With so many moving pieces, getting everybody on the same page working toward the same goal would not be easy, but Agent Cantor managed the operation skillfully and delivered extraordinary results.

How did they do it? Typically, investigators of child pornography pursue simple searches to identify online users. But the FALCON team was much more ambitious. They decided to launch the first ever federal investigation to target the financial aspects of online child pornography. There would be two phases to the investigation and subsequent prosecutions.

The first phase involved going after the companies who were doing the billing, operating the websites and processing the credit card transactions. Investigators eventually identified Regpay, a front company in Belarus that not only operated child pornography websites but provided billing services for 50 pornographic websites across the world. They got to Regpay through Connections USA, a Florida firm that processed Regpay’s U.S. credit card transactions. After securing guilty pleas from two Connections USA officials, Cantor and her team worked with the international criminal police organization, Interpol, to set up a meeting in Paris with the three heads of Regpay, using the U.S. business partners as bait.

Deputy Special Agent in Charge, Thomas Manifase captured the scene perfectly. “They were expecting to get a payment of $1.3 million from Connections USA,” Manifase said. “What they got was three pairs of handcuffs.”

With the ringleaders of this global criminal enterprise in custody and extradited to the United States, it was time to move to phase two of the investigation—tracking down the purchasers, many of whom posed direct threats to children.

ICE agents seized electronic records documenting as many as 100,000 credit card transactions, involving more than 70,000 U.S. subscribers and over 25,000 overseas. After sorting through the credit card records, agents identified thousands of potential targets and prioritized them according to their access to children. As of February 2005, more than 1,200 individuals around the globe had been arrested for purchasing this illegal material. Those arrested include teachers, priests, camp counselors, pediatricians and Boy Scout leaders, some of whom proved to be child abusers. Roughly 200 of these arrests have taken place in the United States, and working with foreign authorities, criminals have also been apprehended in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. This phase of the investigation is still ongoing, and arrests continue to be made almost daily.

The domestic and international collaboration on this case has been remarkable, and it is surpassed only by the extraordinary result. Susan Cantor and her team deserve the nation’s gratitude for unraveling this world wide web of evil and bringing some of the world’s sickest criminals to justice.