William De Vries was sentenced May 11, 2018, to 835 years in prison after being convicted on 107 counts for the unlawful distribution, sale and possession of child pornography. The 57-year-old Johannesburg, South Africa, man was found guilty May 3, a conviction that came after nine years of delayed efforts and complications. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Pretoria, in a joint effort with the Department of Justice International Affairs and the South African National Prosecution Authority, was instrumental in the investigation that led to the initial arrest.
Not only was HSI key to the arrest and prosecution of De Vries, but the agents involved set precedence for the future testimony of U.S. agents in South African courts.
According to the prosecution, De Vries had been involved in child pornography for nearly 20 years, operating his business out of his home under an Internet alias. In April 2009, however, De Vries sold material to an undercover agent with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The agent testified via desktop video conference (DVC) from the South African Embassy in Washington D.C., having to first prove to the court that he was present in the South African Embassy. The undercover agent was required to be alone with a South African Consular Officer without possession of any reference materials. The agent was sworn in by the Consular Officer and then again by the judge in South Africa.
The DVC was orchestrated by HSI Pretoria Foreign Service National Investigator Johan Claassen using five Google Hangout accounts allowing the judge, prosecutor, defense, the U.S. witness, as well as the public to monitor the proceedings.
“Though technology was used by the defendant to do harm, advanced technologies were instrumental in bringing him to justice,” said Regional Attaché Steve Martin.
Claassen was initially alerted by U.S. authorities to the online activity and subsequently passed the information on to the South African police. During a 2010 raid, law enforcement officials found nearly 300,000 pieces of child pornography ranging from films, photos cartoons and short sexual stories.
U.S. officials initially wanted De Vries extradited, however, the extradition was averted by the National Prosecuting Authority’s move to charge and prosecute him in Johannesburg.
After years of investigations, De Vries was indicted in 2017. He was found guilty of 23 counts of unlawful possession of child pornography, 42 counts of creating child pornography, 21 counts of unlawful importation and procurement of pornographic material, and 21 counts of distribution of child pornography. Images of approximately 130,000 individual children were identified.
HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators. From outside the U.S. and Canada, callers should dial 802-872-6199. Hearing impaired users can call TTY 802-872-6196.
Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST.
For additional information about wanted suspected child predators, download HSI’s Operation Predator smartphone app or visit the online suspect alerts page. HSI is a founding member of the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies and private industry sector partners working together to prevent and deter online child sexual abuse.
Source: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE.gov)