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FBI child-porn sting nabs several locals

The FBI has charged several local suspects in a crackdown on purveyors of Internet child pornography.

Bruce Whalen, 54, of Medford, was taken into federal custody Monday to serve out a prison sentence of two years and three months. Whalen pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of child pornography last year and was sentenced in April.

The FBI's involvement in such cases has increased about 20-fold in the past six years, said spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele. The FBI has jurisdiction over cybercrimes and conducts undercover Internet child porn investigations from half of its field offices across the country.

We now have the technology to track these people ... and the technology is allowing more people to do it, Steele said.

— One in five children between the ages of 10 and 17 has received an online sexual solicitation, according to a study conducted in 2000 by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Steele said. One in four have unwillingly been exposed to Internet porn, she said. Kids report only about 25 percent of these instances to a parent, and about 10 percent are reported to police, Steele added.

The investigation of Whalen started at the FBI's Baltimore office, where agents came across his user identification during the course of another child porn investigation, Steele said. Agents tracked Whalen's Internet activity to porn Web sites and other suspects dealing in child porn, she said. FBI investigators working under the agency's Innocent Images initiative typically pose as teenagers online, Steele added.

Sending child porn to an undercover detective over the Internet resulted in charges for another Medford man last year.

Kevin Lee Bratton, 23, was arrested in September on state charges of encouraging child sex abuse. Those charges were dropped when the FBI took over the case.

Bratton allegedly sent material on seven occasions to a New Hampshire detective who was posing in an online chat room as a 15-year-old boy, Medford investigators said. The detective corresponded with Bratton for several weeks but did not solicit the pornography, police said.

In August last year, the former executive director of the Fruit Growers League of Jackson County was arrested on child pornography charges. The league fired Dennis Hofer after photos and digitized video of children in sexually explicit poses were discovered on his office computer. State charges against Hofer also were dismissed when prosecutors filed federal counts.

Hofer, who had held the executive director's position for two and a half years, was fired because the league's members were not satisfied with his job performance, according to President Jerry May.

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Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail