Illinois middle school teacher arrested on federal child sexual exploitation charges

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CHICAGO — A middle school teacher in northwest suburban Buffalo Grove, Illinois, was arrested early Thursday morning on federal charges for allegedly receiving child pornography and persuading a minor to produce pornographic images of himself.

John C. Vastis, aka "Pete," 51, of Lakemoor, Illinois, which straddles Lake and McHenry counties, was arrested at his home Aug. 28 by agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) at the same time they executed a federal search warrant.

Vastis is a teacher at the Meridian Middle School in Aptakisic-Tripp District 102 in Buffalo Grove. There are no allegations of any sexual exploitation of any students. School district officials are cooperating with the investigation.

Vastis is charged with two counts of producing child pornography and one count of receiving child pornography. He appeared before Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cole and was ordered to remain in federal custody pending a detention hearing scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday in U.S. District Court.

Anyone with information about this matter is encouraged to call HSI's toll-free tip line at 1-866-DHS-2ICE (1-866-347-2423) or submit information using HSI's online tip form. Callers may remain anonymous.

According to the complaint, on Aug. 15, HSI agents and local police executed a state search warrant at the residence of a 17-year-old youth who was suspected of possessing and distributing child pornography. The youth, identified as "Minor A," told agents that he began communicating via Skype and text messages with an adult he identified as "Pete" when he was 16 years old in September 2013. Agents later identified "Pete" as Vastis, the charges allege.

Agents then analyzed data from Minor A's computer and cell phone and recovered more than 3,200 lines of chat messages between Minor A and "Pete." Excerpts of those chats are detailed in the complaint affidavit.

The sexual exploitation of a minor charges allege that on Jan. 18 and March 3, Vastis persuaded, induced, and enticed Minor A to produce pornographic images of himself and send them to Vastis. He was also charged with receiving a video containing child pornography July 13.

Each count of producing child pornography carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years and a maximum of 30 years in prison. Receiving child pornography carries a mandatory minimum of five years and a maximum of 20 years. Each count carries a $250,000 maximum fine. If convicted, the court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal sentencing statutes and the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.

The arrest and charges were announced by Zachary T. Fardon, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and Gary Hartwig, special agent in charge of HSI Chicago.

The Lakemoor Police Department, together with state and local HSI task force officers and the Lake County State's Attorney's Office, are assisting in the investigation. The Buffalo Grove Police Department is also cooperating with the investigation. The government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Kness, Northern District of Illinois.

A complaint contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

This investigation was conducted under HSI's Operation Predator, an international initiative to protect children from sexual predators. Since the launch of Operation Predator in 2003, HSI has arrested more than 10,000 individuals for crimes against children, including the production and distribution of online child pornography, traveling overseas for sex with minors, and sex trafficking of children. In fiscal year 2013, more than 2,000 individuals were arrested by HSI special agents under this initiative.

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. 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 and current chair 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.

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