Cuccinelli expands fight against Internet predators and child pornographers

ken cuccinelliToday, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli announced that he will be expanding his office’s capabilities to investigate and prosecute Internet child predators and child pornographers and reduce a statewide evidence-gathering backlog. Using approximately $750,000 his office earned from the Abbott Labs fraud settlement, he will be quadrupling the size of his computer forensic lab and adding a mobile lab to gather and process evidence at crime scenes around the commonwealth.

“Expanding our in-house computer forensic lab and adding a mobile lab for use at crime scenes around the commonwealth is going to reduce evidence-gathering times and vastly increase our ability to prosecute more Internet child predators and child pornographers. What’s disheartening is that there has been a backlog of these cases because there just aren’t enough computer forensic analysts around the state to handle them. Increasing our capacity is one way I’m trying to eliminate that backlog and get these predators prosecuted and out of our communities,” said Cuccinelli.

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Before this latest expansion, Cuccinelli’s Computer Crime Section had already increased its convictions by 77 percent since the attorney general arrived in 2010 (from 13 in 2009 to 23 in 2012). Cuccinelli reorganized staff and mandated they more actively reach out to local law enforcement to offer assistance in gathering and analyzing computer evidence. As a result, over the last three years, he has increased the office’s ability to find and prosecute Internet child predators and child pornographers. The Computer Crime Section now averages two to three convictions each month – the highest rate in the office’s history.

In 2012, the attorney general added three computer forensic analyststo the team of three prosecutors to help the attorneys comb through computers; cell phones; and external computer media such as CDs, DVDs, and flash drives to find evidence. The attorney general also charged his Computer Crime team with reaching out to local law enforcement, offering their forensic and prosecutorial expertise, especially to smaller localities that do not necessarily have staff who deal with Internet crimes on a regular basis. A lack of forensic analysts in local law enforcement has caused a backlog of computers waiting to be searched for evidence, and the team’s outreach to local law enforcement has helped alleviate some of that backlog. In its first 12 months of operation, the three computer forensic analysts handled 48 cases in 23 separate jurisdictions across the commonwealth. That number is expected to increase as the capabilities of the team expand and more localities call on the attorney general’s office for help.

The team now travels extensively throughout the commonwealth to investigate and prosecute crimes. They also train local prosecutors and law enforcement at conferences and police academies statewide. The attorneys are also cross-designated as Special Assistant United States Attorneys and prosecute cases in federal as well as state courts.

From the outset of Cuccinelli’s tenure in January 2010 to the present, the Computer Crime Section has obtained 69 convictions in child exploitation and abuse cases, netting a total of 551 years of active prison time, plus one life sentence.

In August 2011, the team spearheaded the largest child exploitation operation in the history of Virginia. For the first time, members of the Northern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and the Southern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (which together encompass all jurisdictions in Virginia) worked in tandem 24 hours a day for a week to target and identify child predators on the Internet. The effort was dubbed Operation Phalanx and resulted in 31 arrests in Virginia, with another 26 targets referred for arrest and prosecution in other states and internationally.

The Computer Crime Section’s expansion is being done at no cost to taxpayers. The funds are coming from asset forfeiture proceeds earned from the national Medicaid fraud investigation the attorney general’s office led against Abbott Laboratories, Inc. Abbott paid the forfeiture as part of a 2012 settlement.

The Computer Crime Section has original jurisdiction and concurrent jurisdiction with local law enforcement to investigate and prosecute child exploitation crimes.

Details on the expansion

Expanded Computer Forensic Lab (approximately $550,000)

The section is outgrowing its small space and is renovating a 9800-square foot unused space in the attorney general’s building to create a forensic lab that will be four times the size of its current home. The lab will house more computer servers with greater speed to analyze digital evidence. It will also have more hard drive storage space to store mirrored images of suspects’ computers.

A larger lab will also allow the team’s forensic examiners to physically take control of computer evidence and store it on site. Currently, agents and officers working cases must physically bring computer evidence to the attorney general’s office where examiners copy the computer media while officers wait, which can take hours or even days. The original evidence is then returned to the officers for storage at their respective departments around the state.

Allowing the evidence to remain on site will free up the investigating officers to go back to work and will also give the forensic team access to the original evidence, should examiners need to inspect it further.

Mobile Computer Forensic Lab (approximately $200,000)

The mobile computer forensic lab will be used to assist in state, local, and federal investigations across Virginia. The mobile lab will be used on scene when search warrants are executed. The lab will allow forensic examiners to mirror-image computer hard drives, cell phones, or other media immediately. After imaging the material, examiners can safely preview the media for evidence on location.

About the Abbott asset forfeiture money

Although the Abbott asset forfeiture money is the attorney general’s office’s to keep, Cuccinelli has been making plans for more than a year to use proceeds for grants to local police and sheriffs’ departments to buy needed equipment such as bulletproof vests, tactical vehicles, and police cars. He has also requested that funds be set aside for continuing training for law enforcement and local prosecutors. Cuccinelli will be submitting more proposals asking Treasury to release additional funds for other law enforcement needs in the coming weeks and months. Per federal regulations, the forfeiture money must be used for law enforcement purposes.

The Virginia-led Medicaid fraud investigation led to the second largest Medicaid fraud settlement in U.S. history at the time. In May 2012, Abbott Laboratories Inc. pled guilty and agreed to pay $1.5 billion to the federal government and the states to resolve criminal and civil liability arising from the company’s unlawful promotion of the prescription drug Depakote for uses not approved as safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration.