Sunday, November 19, 2017
Public safety

International child porn investigation reached Largo

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It began with one photograph.

In November 2010, authorities arrested a man outside Boston on a charge of child pornography. They found in his possession an image of another man and a young child holding a toy rabbit. The rabbit, the investigators found, had not been made in America. It was Dutch.

So, on a whim, authorities in Boston contacted authorities in the Netherlands, who showed an edited version of the photograph on the country's TV stations. Within hours, Robert Mikelsons had been arrested and one of the world's most shocking cases of child abuse began to unravel.

Mikelsons — who worked in day-cares and as a babysitter — was convicted of molesting 67 children, but he admitted to abusing many more. He was dubbed the "Monster of Riga."

Mikelsons' arrest led to dozens of others across six countries.

Then, last week, the investigation came to Largo.

Ronald Brown, 57, has been charged with conspiring to kidnap children and possession of child pornography. For years, he had worked in local churches and schools as a puppeteer.

Federal investigators released excerpts of online chats in which Brown and a man from the Kansas City area, Michael Arnett, engaged in horrifying discussions about kidnapping, sexually abusing, murdering and eating children.

Arnett has also been charged.

Brown's arrest did not represent the first time this investigation targeted a man in Tampa Bay.

Joshua Allen Taylor of St. Petersburg pleaded guilty in May to the distribution of child pornography. In November 2011, the 30-year-old sent an explicit video to an undercover law enforcement officer.

Authorities found in his home more than 5,000 images and videos depicting child pornography, mostly of infants and toddlers.

Though Brown and Taylor were caught through the same web, authorities say the two men had never contacted each other. Taylor also had not communicated with Arnett in Kansas, officials said.

Ross Feinstein, spokesman at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has followed the investigation since its inception.

Over the last two years, he said, authorities have used highly specialized computer forensics to link one suspect to the next.

"You take one individual arrest," he said, "and continue to peel back the onion layer by layer."

John Woodrow Cox can be reached at jcox@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8472.

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