Tips of cybercrimes against children skyrocket

Computer mouse file photo.
Computer mouse file photo.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – State records show that tips about the online sexual exploitation of children skyrocketed while Wisconsin’s investigations of such cases languished.

The number of tips the state received from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children tripled between 2010-11 and 2011-12, the Wisconsin State Journal reported Sunday. But over that period the number of Department of Justice staffers assigned to investigate Internet crimes against children remained the same at 31.

A DOJ agent and her supervisor recently lost their jobs after an internal investigation found they let child pornography cases languish for months.

The department receives hundreds of tips every year from the national center. DOJ agents investigate some while others are referred to local police agencies. In 2010-11, the center forwarded 366 tips to the department and other Wisconsin law enforcement agencies, prompting the state agency to open 145 cases, according to a 2013 report by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. The following year, 2011-12, the center forwarded 909 tips, resulting in 450 new DOJ cases, the report said.

The number of tips for 2012-13 is not yet available, DOJ spokeswoman Dana Brueck said.

Nationwide, there’s been a huge jump in such cases, center spokeswoman Rebecca Kovar said. Kovar said her group has referred 2.4 million tips to state Internet crimes against children task forces since 1998 – half in just the past two years.

Attorney Dan Bach, who represents the former supervisor, Willie Brantley, said system-wide problems, including a ballooning caseload, have led to months or years of inaction in Internet cases involving child pornography, enticement or similar crimes against children. Both the large increase in cases and disagreement over who was in charge of tracking their progress may have led to some tips being overlooked and cases neglected, he said.

Bach, a former No. 2 official at the department, represents Brantley, a former special agent in charge of the Milwaukee office who is fighting his termination. Anna King, a special agent in the Milwaukee office, also left the agency after allegedly failing to aggressively pursue such cases, but officials have not said if she resigned or was fired.

In Brantley’s termination letter, Deputy Attorney General Kevin St. John cited 43 cases held for four months or more, including one in which the delay allowed a suspect to allegedly sexually assault a child. But Bach said the 43 cases for which Brantley was terminated “do not even show up as cases that are assigned to him.”

Brueck disagreed, saying Brantley was responsible for all agents in the Milwaukee office, including King.

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