SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) The Department of Justice in Salt Lake City is warning parents to be mindful of child predators after several cases of Utah men have started to make their way through the federal court system.
Federal prosecutors and the FBI said they saw the potential risk coming in March.
“Due to school closings as a result of COVID-19, children will potentially have an increased online presence and/or be in a position that puts them at an inadvertent risk. Due to this newly developing environment, the FBI is seeking to warn parents, educators, caregivers, and children about the dangers of online sexual exploitation and signs of child abuse,” an FBI national press release cautioned.
“During the pandemic, parents have taken on more and more during stay at home directives. Work, school, and parenting blend into demanding days. With everyone at home together, we may expect that the threat of child sexual exploitation would diminish. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be the case,” U.S. Attorney John W. Huber said today.
Huber said he understands parents can be focused on many things but it is important for them to remain vigilant in protecting their children from sexual predators.
“I can also assure parents, who are feeling the strain in many areas that my office and our law enforcement partners are working as aggressively as ever to target these criminals and keep them away from our children,” Huber said.
Online sexual exploitation shows up in many forms, according to the FBI national release.
Individuals might be coerced into sending sexually explicit images or videos of themselves. Predators are known to make casual contact with children online, gain their trust, and then start a sexually explicit conversation.
“Kids should be aware that the idea of “stranger danger” also applies when they go online because predators will misrepresent themselves to gain their trust,” said Paul Haertel, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Salt Lake City. “When a child is sexually exploited, there can be life-long consequences, but the crime is preventable. The FBI will do our part to go after those who hurt society’s most vulnerable, and we urge parents and caregivers to do their part too through education and awareness.”
The Department of Justice included several examples of individual cases of child predators including Scott Andrew Clark, 44, a registered sex offender from Ogden who faces possession of child pornography charges after Riverdale Police officers found him in possession of 5,000 images and 200 videos of child pornography when an individual called police on a report of a suspicious man sitting inside a car at a local business. responded to a reporting a suspicious individual sitting in a parked vehicle next to a retail business two days in a row. Clark has a 2003 state court conviction in Utah for attempted sexual abuse of a minor.
Michael W. Fritchen, 64, of North Salt Lake City, was charged with possession of child pornography after police found more than 13,000 possible images depicting the sexual exploitation of children, some as young as 4-6 years old on a desktop seized from his home in North Salt Lake.
Fritchen, who was convicted in 1993 of several counts of committing an indecent liberties on children. The case was conducted before a United States Air Force general court martial. He received a 10-year sentence.
Miguel Angel Jimenez, 24, a registered sex offender from Magna, faces possession of child pornography charges after he engaged in a sexual conversation with an undercover agent who was pretending to someone be a 13-year-old child. Jimenez arranged to meet the child for sex on multiple occasions; however, he never appeared at the meeting location.
During their investigation, police discovered 773 images and 507 videos of child pornography of child pornography on his phone, documents state.
Clark, Fritchen, and Jimenez each face up to 20 years in prison, with a 10-year minimum mandatory sentence, if convicted of the charges in the complaint. They are currently in state custody.
*Complaints are not findings of guilt. Individuals charged in complaints are presumed innocent until proven guilty in court.*
A list of recommendations from the FBI’s National Press Office release issued in March:
Parents and guardians can take the following measures to help educate and prevent children from becoming victims of child predators and sexual exploitation during this time of national emergency:
Online Child Exploitation Tips to Protect Your Children:
- Discuss Internet safety with children of all ages when they engage in online activity.
- Review and approve games and apps before they are downloaded.
- Make sure privacy settings are set to the strictest level possible for online gaming systems and electronic devices.
- Monitor your children’s use of the Internet; keep electronic devices in an open, common room of the house.
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