Task force catches more criminals exploiting children online

Five area men busted following recent investigations of online exploitation of children are now being identified.

Police arrested 19-year-old Justin Shaffer, of La Crosse; 22-year-old Stephan Speer, of Onalaska; 35-year-old Paul Doucet, of rural Holmen; 33-year-old Gregory Paglini and and 19-year-old Dakota Thoren, both of the town of Campbell.

The arrests were all made within the last three weeks, thanks in part to the Coulee Region Children’s Internet Protection Task Force.

The Coulee Region Children’s Internet Protection Task Force (CRCIPTF) works with all eight La Crosse County law enforcement agencies, and other agencies including Child Protective Services and the FBI, to investigate local crimes against children online.

The task force said this kind of collaboration with agencies and keeping up with changes in technology is helping them catch more criminals.

“It’s everywhere,” said Crystal Sedevie, CRCIPTF co-chair and Holmen Police Department investigator. “Bad guys have gotten smarter at how they look at images.”

Cybercrime exploiting children is hidden, but pervasive, even in the Coulee region.

“These are crimes being committed you don’t necessarily see out on the street every day,” said Officer Nathan Casper, with the Town of Campbell Police Department.

After CRCIPTF investigations, there were five La Crosse County arrests in May, and six total since March, all unrelated, and most on child pornography charges.

“I think maybe if we’d average, one (arrest) a month,” Sedevie said.

She can’t say the bump in arrests necessarily means there has been an increase in crimes of this nature.

“I think what it is, is we’re catching them more,” Sedevie said. “We have more resources in our area. We have teamed up with the Division of Criminal Investigations at the state level and also (the) FBI. We’ve really become good partners in this area, and so we all bring our resources to table, and I think that’s why you’re going to see increase in cases.”

“We’re able to work together as a team,” Casper said.

Investigators said catching criminals is a tough job.

Since the task force began in 2006, Sedevie said children are spending more time online.

“Things are very different from 11 years ago,” she said. “There’s a new app every other week it seems like.”

“We send officers to multiple trainings per year so that we can stay ahead of the curve in learning how to investigate certain crimes and using the technology in a fashion that tries to give us the advantage,” Casper said.

Investigators need to keep up, and in most cases need to search phones for evidence.

The task force’s new device called a “cellebrite” does just that.

“The software is able to go into phone and pull out information that’s deleted as well as what’s inside of apps and all sorts of things,” Sedevie said.

Task force members agree it’s a difficult but worthwhile crime to investigate.

“We’re protecting little kids that have no recourse otherwise,” Casper said.

“There’s children that need to be protected,” Sedevie said.

Sedevie said they often get tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which is how some of these recent cases came to light.

According to Sedevie, some of the men arrested in May are still in La Crosse County Jail, and some have been released on bond.

The task force is a nonprofit organization. Donations can be made on their facebook page here.