RALEIGH, N.C. — A Wilmington man pleaded guilty Wednesday to receipt of child pornography following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Todd Balo, 48, pleaded guilty before Chief United States District Judge James C. Dever, III, after a federal grand jury returned a criminal indictment against him Nov. 23, 2013.
According to the investigation, in November 2012, HSI special agents received a tip regarding an IP address in the Wilmington area receiving child pornography via the peer-to-peer network Gigatribe. As the investigation progressed, the address and user were identified as Balo. Balo was interviewed and admitted that over the past seven years he had used Gigatribe to share files with others, to include child pornography that included "very young" children. Law enforcement located and seized 14 computer hard drives, a laptop computer, a thumbdrive and several cell phones. Forensic analysis found in excess of 7,000 images and 260 videos of child pornography.
At sentencing, scheduled for Dec. 1, 2014, Balo faces up to 20 years of imprisonment. Assistant United States Attorney Ethan A. Ontjes is handling the prosecution on behalf of the Eastern District of North Carolina.
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.
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.