A 36-year-old Modesto man learned just how small the cyberworld can be after federal authorities arrested him over the weekend on suspicion of the sexual exploitation of children.
Timothy Valdez appeared Monday in federal court in Fresno after admitting that he was the person in an explicit child pornography video posted on the Internet. The story follows an intriguing path, beginning when officials in Denmark found the video — made in three segments — online during an investigation last year. The video contained graphic and explicit evidence of sexual abuse of young boys.
"This is a textbook case of cooperation," said Mike Prado, HSI's supervising special agent in Fresno. "We constantly share information with our foreign counterparts."
Common household products such as Hershey's chocolate syrup, Dial soap and Dawn dishwashing liquid in the background suggested to the Danes that the video likely was made in North America, according to the criminal complaint filed Monday in Fresno.
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In December, Danish officials alerted U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigation authorities.
Until last week, though, they couldn't put a name to the adult's face in the video. They knew him only as "John Doe, white male 30-40 years old, medium to heavy build, black hair with goatee, brown eyes, pierced right nipple, series of moles on upper left arm," as a federal warrant issued in Washington, D.C. in January described him.
"America's Most Wanted" posted Valdez's photo on its Web site. And WJLA, an ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C., aired a segment on the case asking for the public's help in identifying the man.
Authorities got their big break Friday, when someone left information on Homeland Security's tip line directing agents to Valdez's MySpace pages.
The caller said the man on the MySpace page resembled the "John Doe" wanted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the child porn case.
Valdez also has a Facebook page. That same day, a special agent sent him a friend request using an undercover account. Valdez accepted, giving the agent access to the photos and personal information he'd posted on the site, officials said.
Boys appearing in photos on his Facebook page appeared to be the same boys shown in the porn video.
Agents obtained a federal warrant to search Valdez's home, near Downey High School in central Modesto.
When arrested Saturday, with the Modesto police assisting, he waived his rights and spoke to authorities. The complaint states that he admitted being the man in the video, and that it had been made in 2008 in Oklahoma, where he lived at the time. He told authorities the boys in the photos and video were brothers, then 8 and 7 years old, respectively, and that his son was at home when some of the acts occurred. The two boys in the video have moved to California, he told the agents.
He told them he is a stay-at-home dad who owns "lots" of child and adult pornography, and had been "collecting child pornography for over 15 years," according to the complaint.
Denied posting video
What he said he didn't do was to post the video online. He said he sent it to someone, though, and that person did — putting it out there for the underworld of pedophiles and child pornographers to see.
"Sadly, it's something we see on a regular basis — people abusing children and posting and distributing it on the World Wide Web," HSI's Prado said. "It's especially rewarding (to make an arrest). As tech becomes more prevalent, it's easier to distribute (porn). But we're also able to turn the tables on (people) who abuse kids. The social media is a two-way street."
Anyone with information on this or any similar case can call Homeland Security Investigations hotline at 866-347-2423.