Salem Couple Who were Subject of National Manhunt Charged with Production of Child Pornography
Michael and Michelle Freeman are charged with using their children to produce child pornography
PORTLAND, Ore. - Michelle Lee Freeman, 40, and her husband, Michael Serapis Freeman, 39, both of Salem, appeared today before U.S. Magistrate John V. Acosta, for their arraignment on four counts of Production of Child Pornography. The maximum penalty on each count is not less than 15 years, nor more than 30 years in prison. Michael Freeman was also charged with the Distribution of Child Pornography. Both defendants entered not guilty pleas, and their trial is scheduled for November 27, 2012, with U.S. District Court Judge Garr M. King. Both defendants have been detained as dangers to the community and as a flight risk. The maximum penalty, on this count, is not less than 5 years, nor more than 20 years imprisonment.
According to the criminal complaint that was filed in this case, Michael Freeman produced images of child pornography involving his two minor daughters and subsequently distributed a number of these images over the Internet. Some of the images depicted Michael Freeman sexually abusing one of his daughters. Michelle Freeman is also alleged to have produced images of child pornography and allowed her husband to use their children to produce child pornography.
"The crimes alleged in this indictment chronicle a tragic breach of trust," stated U.S. Attorney S. Amanda Marshall. "While all of us are saddened when we learn of such atrocities, we must remain ever vigilant in our determination to end child abuse and exploitation and punish those responsible for such crimes."
The couple was arrested as a direct result of a national appeal for public assistance by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) to locate an, at that time, unknown suspect who was producing child pornography. In August 2012, HSI's Child Exploitation Investigations Unit's Victim Identification Program obtained a "Jane Doe" arrest warrant in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for the suspect, who was later identified as Michelle Freeman. Two weeks later, tips from the Pacific Northwest led HSI to call on local and regional news media to publicize the search. That news coverage, and additional sharing on Facebook and other social media outlets, eventually produced tips from the public to HSI which directly lead to the Freemans - federal arrest on September 4, 2012, in Salem, Oregon.
"For the past two years, all we knew was that there were these voiceless victims, two little girls, somewhere in the U.S. being sexually abused," said Brad Bench, special agent in charge of HSI Seattle who oversees HSI Portland. "Now with this federal indictment, the victims have a voice as the full force of the U.S. government confronts their accused abusers in court."
"While it is disturbing for me and the entire community to learn something like this could occur, I am pleased with the federal indictment," said Salem Police Chief Jerry Moore. "I believe the federal indictment sends a strong message that the sexual exploitation of children in Salem will not be tolerated."
HSI and the Salem Police Department are handling the on-going investigation of this case. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Scott M. Kerin and Stacie F. Beckerman, members of the U.S. Attorney's Office Gang and Child Sex Trafficking Unit.
An indictment is only an accusation of a crime, and the defendants should be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in court.
This investigation was part of Operation Predator, a nationwide HSI initiative to protect children from sexual predators, including those who travel overseas for sex with minors, Internet child pornographers, criminal alien sex offenders and child sex traffickers. HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE 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 and Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, at 1-800-843-5678 or www.cybertipline.com.
This case was also brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the United States Attorneys - Offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.usdoj.gov/psc For more information about internet safety education, please visit www.usdoj.gov/psc and click on the tab "resources."