In what Montana’s U.S. Attorney is calling a “major victory in the fight against child exploitation,” federal prosecutors announced that 11 men have been sentenced for their role in a sprawling, international child pornography network, including a Polson man.
To target the offenders, investigators launched what they call Operation Kingdom Conqueror, a multi-agency, multi-national effort to prosecute members of an online bulletin board advertising and exchanging images of child pornography.
Paul Wencewicz, 48, of Polson, was sentenced Oct. 21 by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy to 220 months in prison, a lifetime of supervised release and $29,859 in restitution. All of the defendants appeared before and were sentenced by Molloy.
Two additional defendants, Joshua Peterson, 45, of Prescott, Arizona, and Steven Grovo, 35, of Shirley, Massachusetts, were found guilty of participating in a child exploitation enterprise and a conspiracy to advertise child pornography on Oct. 9, 2014 after a trial. Both men are scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 22, 2015 in Missoula.
In November 2009, an early participant in the conspiracy designed and created a web-based bulletin board allowing the board members to share and exchange files containing child pornography and other pornographic images depicting young girls. As the conspiracy progressed, additional members contributed to the design and operations of the board.
Between Nov. 6, 2009 and March 19, 2012, members of the conspiracy used the online bulletin board to share pictures and videos of children engaged in sexually explicit conduct, according to federal prosecutors. During that same time the participants agreed to use the online bulletin board to publish or print notices or advertisements soliciting additional images of child pornography which they would then share and broadcast on the internet.
The lengthy and wide-ranging investigation, referred to as Operation Kingdom Conqueror, is an ongoing cooperative effort between the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Montana Department of Criminal Investigations, the Helena and Polson Police Departments, the United States Department of Justice – Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Homeland Security Investigations, the Montana Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, and the States of Jersey Police Department, Isle of Jersey, near the United Kingdom.
“I commend the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Montana, U.S. Department of Justice Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and each of the law enforcement agencies who worked on this case for their efforts in bringing justice to the victims. These successes are only possible through the commitment of our law enforcement community to working together to protect the most vulnerable, and prosecute to the full extent those who prey upon our children,” Mary Rook, the FBI’s special agent in charge, stated.
Montana’s U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter called the sentences “a major victory in the fight against child exploitation. Pedophiles who savage our children through pornography, coercion and exploitation are on notice that when they are caught – and they will be caught – the consequences are dire and law enforcement’s tolerance for these crimes non-existent”.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Cyndee L. Peterson and Maureen C. Cain with the U.S. Department of Justice, Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, prosecuted the case on behalf of the United States.
The case was initiated under the Department of Justice’s Project Safe Childhood initiative, which was launched in 2006 to combat the proliferation of technology-facilitated crimes involving the sexual exploitation of children. Through a network of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and advocacy organizations, Project Safe Childhood attempts to protect children by investigating and prosecuting offenders involved in child sexual exploitation. It is implemented through partnerships including the Montana Internet Crimes Against Children Task (or the MT ICAC). The ICAC Task Force Program was created to assist state and local law enforcement agencies by enhancing their investigative response to technology facilitated crimes against children.