Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story included the name of a 20-year-old Wayne man who was charged as a result of the investigation detailed below. Though the man was charged with possession of child pornography and his name was released Tuesday by the Passaic County Sheriff's Department, the charges against him were dropped earlier this month.
WAYNE - Three juveniles from Wayne have been charged in a multi-agency undercover investigation to combat the distribution of child pornography in Passaic County, Sheriff Richard Berdnik announced Tuesday morning.
The two 16-year-olds and a 17-year-old were charged with multiple counts of possession of child pornography and the distribution of child pornography in the sting, which authorities referred to as Operation Minor Traffic, Berdnik said.
“It was the first operation of its kind that targeted individuals who engaged in this type of activity in Passaic County,” said Capt. Robert Westin, commander of the sheriff's office Internet Crimes Task Force.
More than 10,000 images and videos of child pornography were recovered throughout the seven month investigation.
Berdnik said that is it “quite troubling to have 16- and 17-year-olds involved in this type of activity.”
“This is a situation where they viewed explicit material,” Berdnik said. “I hope we caught these individuals at the appropriate time where they can receive the help they need.”
Westin said the age of the children in the pornographic material was between less than 1-year-old and 11-years-old. Westin described the material found as “quite disturbing and quite graphic.”
“The images overwhelmingly depicted young adolescent children engaged in sexual acts either with other children or with adults of both genders,” Westin said, noting that the individuals charged did not manufacture any of the materials found.
Berdnik said that the schools the minors attend will be notified of the arrests. The juveniles will not be charged as adults.
Fourteen people from eight Passaic County municipalities were arrested over the course of seven months, authorities said.
The investigation was a joint effort between the Sheriff's Department and eight municipal police departments. An investigator from the Wayne Police Department was assigned full-time to the operation.
“We want to be able to send a clear message of zero tolerance,” Westin said. “I think that the message is, no matter where you reside in Passaic County we will target you and we will go after you.”
Westin said that all the individuals involved were investigated separately and that there is no connection between them.
Berdnik did not disclose how investigators were tipped off about the materials. He said that the possession and distribution of child pornography is something that will be “aggressively pursued” in the future.
“If there are more individuals out there, they’re never going to know who they are dealing with and who they are talking to,” Berdnik said. “There’s always the possibility that they may be talking to an undercover officer.”
Berdnik said the investigation is continuing.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.