ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Thousands were arrested as a result of a months-long crime campaign, spearheaded by federal agencies to specifically arrest suspects of online child sex crimes.
That campaign, labeled "Operation Broken Heart," wrapped up last month, leading to more than 2,300 arrests nation-wide.
In Alaska, seven were arrested from various locations across the state, and authorities say more arrests are expected, as 39 total investigations opened in the state during Broken Heart's between March and May of 2018.
"In the state of Alaska, we know that the numbers of children that are victims of sexual assault are way higher than they should be," said Sgt. Aaron Whitt with the Anchorage Police Department. "We know the technology-facilitated crimes that are being committed, these suspects are using the computer, using the internet to trying to target children ... We can make an effort to try to stop that."
Those arrested in the operation were charged with a number of different crimes, including possession, manufacturing and distribution of child pornography, online enticement of children for sexual purposes, child sex trafficking and child sex tourism.
Sgt. Whitt outlined the methods used by investigators which resulted in those arrests. He said they find suspects using peer-to-peer file-sharing software to send and receive sexually explicit material, as well as receive tips from a national database handling missing or exploited children.
In a statement issued Tuesday, the Anchorage Police Department listed those arrested in the state:
- Jeremy Strunk, 39, faces multiple charges including Sex Abuse Minor 1. APD Case: 18-17528
- Michael Clark, Jr., 28, faces a charge of Possession of Child Pornography. Alaska State Troopers Case: AK17075059
- Vance Peronto, 57 faces multiple charges including Sex Abuse Minor 2. Alaska State Troopers Case: AK18027772
- Cory Lockhart, 28, faces multiple charges including Possession of Child Pornography. Juneau Police Department Case: 180227-011
- Byran Oftedahl, 35, faces multiple charges including Possession of Child Pornography. Ketchikan Police Department Case: 18-464
- Dale Willis, 43, faces multiple charges including Possession of Child Pornography. Ketchikan Police Department 17-4225
- Brandon Cockburn, 39, faces multiple charges including Distribution of Child Pornography. APD Case: 17-8688
The Department of Justice wrote in a statement that specific suspects were targeted for producing child pornography, engaging in enticement of children online, trafficking children for sex, and abusing children abroad in foreign countries.
The task force carrying out the investigation is known as Internet Crimes Against Children, or ICAC, which is funded nationally through federal money.
The DOJ stated that ICAC is responsible for over 83,000 arrests since its creation in 1998, making Broken Heart the latest in a long line of similar operations.
In Alaska, the operation didn't stop at the investigations and subsequent arrests, but instead extended to 20 statewide community outreach events to help inform people on these investigations.
Sgt. Whitt said the public plays a role in helping prevent these types of crimes.
"Understand that the internet is not a safe place, it is a place where predators are and they are looking for opportunities to exploit especially kids who aren't as safe," Whitt said.
KTUU photojournalist Mike Nederbrock contributed to this report.