Web site closed; child porn alleged


Monday, March 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



WASHINGTON (AP) _ A Russian Web site that sold videotapes of children engaged in sexual acts has been shut down and nine people arrested, U.S. law enforcement officials said Monday. Many of the tapes were bought by people in the United States.

The action stemmed from a joint effort, Operation Blue Orchid, by the U.S. Customs Service and the Moscow city police. The investigation continues in the United States and in Europe and could lead to additional arrests, said acting Customs Commissioner Charles Winwood.

``Operation Blue Orchid demonstrates that there really are no borders when it comes to our mutual interest in protecting children,'' Winwood said. ``Regrettably, it also demonstrates that there really are no borders when it comes to using the Internet to exploit children.''

Thus far, four people have been arrested in the United States and 15 search warrants issued. Five people have been arrested in Russia. Operation Blue Orchid was named after the Russian web site, which was shut down in December.

About 100,000 Web sites worldwide are involved in some way with child pornography, the Customs Service estimates. Online child pornography is a problem that has grown with the popularity of the Internet, law enforcement officials said. Winwood said that, given child porn's global scope, it is increasingly important for U.S. law enforcement agencies to work closely with their counterparts abroad to catch offenders.

Operation Blue Orchid was a model of such cooperation with Russian authorities, Winwood said.

Unlike some Web sites that transmit child pornography videos digitally to people, the Blue Orchid site was used to sell and promote videotapes to be shipped to customers.

Blue Orchid customers would wire cash, then send e-mails with instructions where to send a tape. Videotapes were shipped through private courier or the postal service. Prices ranged from $200 to $300. Customs said seized records indicated that while videotapes were shipped worldwide, most were sent to the United States. Customs officials estimated that hundreds of videotapes were sold worldwide.

E-mails between the Web site and customers also revealed that Blue Orchid was considering the possibility of offering custom-made videos for $5,000 apiece, depicting whatever a customer requested, said Kevin Delli-Colli, director of the Customs Cybersmuggling Center.

The investigation into Blue Orchid started in May, when Moscow police asked the Customs Service for help. After an undercover customs agent bought a videotape from the site, Moscow police were led in December to Vsevolod Solntsev-Elbe, one of the alleged Web site operators.

Russian police detained Elbe and a 13-year-old boy, whom Elbe was alleged to have transported to Moscow for sexual exploitation, customs said. Police seized 400 videotapes, video duplication equipment and sales and shipping records from Elbe's apartment. He was arrested Dec. 10.

Sergey Garbko, the other alleged Web site operator, was arrested by Russian authorities on Dec. 18, customs officials said.

As a result of the search of Elbe's apartment, information was sent to customs, identifying people who allegedly had ordered child pornography from the Web site.

That led U.S. officials to Glenn Martikean of Portage, Ind., who was arrested by customs agents Jan. 31. He was indicted Friday by a grand jury in the Northern District of Indiana on charges of importing child pornography and interstate and foreign travel to engage in sexual activity with minors, customs said.

The U.S. Attorney's office in Massachusetts announced that another man, Derek Lochiatto of Malden, Mass., had been arrested and appeared Monday in federal court on charges that he attempted to receive child pornography from the Russian web site. He also was charged with possession of other child pornography obtained over the Internet. He was ordered released on $10,000 unsecured bond until an April 18 hearing, spokeswoman Samantha Martin said.

Names were not released of two other people arrested in the United States.

Customs said Russian authorities arrested Victor Razumov on March 2 on charges that he molested and sexually abused a 15-year-old boy during the making of two videos, ``Thief's Punishment I and II,'' a tape sold on Blue Orchid.

Another actor in the videos, Aleksei Tormazov, was arrested March 15. Video cameraman Yuri Arkhipov was arrested Feb. 27 and later killed himself, customs officials said.