Operation Glass House focuses attention on child pornographers

Michael Brown was not on the Jacksonville Police Department’s radar before he was arrested last month. According to Morgan County court records, his most serious previous criminal offense might have been screeching his tires.

But behind closed doors, Brown, 28, of Jacksonville allegedly had downloaded more child pornography than anyone else in Illinois over a period of two months.

Brown was arrested at his home July 21 following an investigation by the Illinois attorney general’s office,. Ten days later, he pleaded not guilty to reproduction of aggravated child pornography.

Operation Glass House

Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office launched Operation Glass House two years ago to target child pornographers.

The task force gets its name from the technology it uses to essentially see into homes – tracking computer IP addresses to identify the people who download the most child pornography, people who often are unknown to local police.

Thirty-four men have been arrested so far, including three central Illinoisans.

In addition to Brown, authorities arrested Fred A. Tribbett Jr., 39, on July 26 at his home in Kilbourne in rural Mason County. Tribbett allegedly was Illinois' No. 2 downloader of child pornography in July.

And David J. Finley, 28, of the 1600 block of East Converse Avenue in Springfield was arrested a year ago, also as part of Operation Glass House. He was charged with aggravated distribution of child pornography and aggravated possession of child pornography.

The other arrestees are from across the state – excluding Chicago, which has a separate task force with the attorney general’s office for child pornography investigations.

Cara Smith, Madigan’s deputy chief of staff, said it is difficult for local law enforcement to identify people who download child pornography.

Few police departments have the expertise or manpower to dedicate officers to the crime, making it nearly impossible for local authorities to know if someone is viewing child porn in their communities, she said.

“It’s invisible to everyone except trained officers who have access to technology to see downloading occurring in our state,” Smith said.

A total of 3,200 Illinois IP addresses can be seen trading such images over a 120-day period, she said.

Need the help

Deputy Chief Tim Shea of the Jacksonville Police Department said officers were not familiar with Brown before the attorney general’s office contacted the station.

“You don’t expect it,” he said. “He was not somebody we dealt with on a regular basis.”

Deputy Chief Cliff Buscher, head of criminal investigations for the Springfield Police Department, said Springfield has officers dedicated to investigating computer crimes, but none who track the IP addresses of child pornographers.

“We just don’t have the resources or the manpower for it,” Buscher said.

Can happen anywhere

Each child pornography case is different, Smith said. People who view such images live in both urban and rural areas, and they can be poor or wealthy.

The only similarity is that most of the offenders are white, she said.

“I’ve been in law enforcement and criminal justice my entire career, and this crime is rare in that it doesn’t follow any preconceived notions,” Smith said.

Offenders’ homes can be horrific sights, she said. They often are in complete disarray. Although the person may seem normal to neighbors, he often has become obsessed with child pornography, she said.

When that happens, Smith said, the offender becomes more likely to act out on his urges, which is why the department moves quickly. Investigators immediately call the local state’s attorney, as well as local law enforcement.

“There is a concern of child molestation in every single case that we deal with,” Smith said. “We feel in a very real way that this work affects communities and prevents further victimization.”


What is child pornography?

Child pornography is any image or video of someone under the age of 18 shown engaging in sexually explicit conduct. It is a federal crime to knowingly possess, manufacture, distribute or access with intent to view child pornography.

In Illinois, it is considered aggravated child pornography when the child portrayed explicitly is under the age of 13.