ST. LOUIS — The FBI office in St. Louis said Wednesday it has arrested more than 100 people on suspicion of child pornography and child sex crimes in the last 21 months, outpacing the nation's 55 other FBI field offices.
The 107 child predator suspects from eastern Missouri are mostly white, married men with an average age of 39, but whose ages range from 19 to 77. They include a police officer, firefighter, former teacher, school counselor, real estate agent and radio station employee.
Working with a task force of computer forensics experts, the FBI prepared cases resulting in 114 indictments and 93 convictions in a period that includes all of last year and 2009 to date, Special Agent in Charge John Gillies said.
Gillies spoke at a news conference on the eve of his departure from St. Louis, where he has made a name for himself in just two years pursuing public corruption, gang activity and terrorism.
He said it was the FBI's diligence rather than a saturation of offenders in eastern Missouri that accounts for St. Louis leading the country in child predator arrests. The St. Louis office covers the eastern part of the state, with satellite offices in Kirksville, St. Charles, Rolla and Cape Girardeau.
Gillies said his drive to fight child sex crimes stemmed from his years running the violent crimes division at FBI headquarters and pledged to bring his tenacity to his next FBI assignment in Miami, where he is headed after finishing in St. Louis on Oct. 9.
"It is one of the most heinous crimes law enforcement can investigate," Gillies said.
He was joined by Clayton Police Detective . Ken Nix, who leads an effort of federal, state and local law enforcement in Missouri to analyze computer hard drives, digital photographs, cell phone texting and other seized media for building criminal cases. Up to 80 percent of them involve child exploitation, he said.
Gillies said that of the St. Louis FBI office's 100-plus child predator arrests since January 2008, 52 percent involved sexual assault of children, 48 percent involved child pornography.
Typically, he said, offenders progress from viewing pornographic images of sex acts with children that abusers have videotaped and traded on the Internet to actually "putting their hands on a child."
Congress has passed good laws and judges are imposing tough sentences, Gillies said, but stopping "the appetite" for child pornography and sexual assault is more difficult.
Gillies and Nix urged parents to be vigilant in monitoring their children's computer activities, to use surveillance software and check their kids' social networking sites daily.