FBI, local law enforcement target child sexual predators in Pittsburgh region | TribLIVE.com

FBI, local law enforcement target child sexual predators in Pittsburgh region

Bob Bauder
Bob Bauder | Tribune-Review
Tim Wolford, supervisory special agent with the FBI’s Pittsburgh field office, on Aug. 7, 2019, outlines a nationwide effort to nab child sexual predators.

Pittsburgh police arrested two people last month as part of an FBI operation designed to nab child and adult sex traffickers across the country.

Police charged Amy Schifano, 43, of Pittsburgh’s South Side, with prostitution on July 29 and Patrick E. Lewis, 43, of Portland, Ore., with promoting prostitution on July 30, according to the FBI and Allegheny County Court records.

Schifano agreed to perform a sex act on a Pittsburgh detective, while Lewis paid for a room at a South Side hotel that was being used by a prostitute who agreed to perform a sex act on a Pittsburgh police officer, according to criminal complaints.

They were among 67 suspected sex traffickers arrested during 161 actions conducted by the FBI and local law enforcement nationwide last month.

The effort, called Operation Independence Day, turned up 82 children, 21 of whom were identified as victims of child sex trafficking, according to the FBI.

“The public needs to understand that even if you don’t think these types of crimes are happening in your neighborhood, I’m here to tell you that they are. Not just commercial sex trafficking, but even more specific to our local neighborhoods, the exploitation of children online,” said Tim Wolford, supervisory special agent with the FBI’s Pittsburgh field office.

Separately from Operation Independence Day, agents this year have arrested seven “travelers,” or people who came to the Pittsburgh area to engage in sex with a minor, Wolford said.

Four of the suspects have been charged since April with coercion and enticement of minors. All allegedly contacted an agent, whom they believed to be a 13-year-old boy for sex, Wolford said.

The FBI said investigations into the other three travelers are ongoing.

Wolford said Pittsburgh has less child sex trafficking than other cities, but agents are seeing an increase in online enticement of local children.

He said perpetrators target kids by creating false social media profiles and posing as children or sympathetic adults to gain their confidence. They then typically ask for photographs that might be innocent at first, but progressively become more explicit.

Suspects will use the photos to blackmail a child into sending more explicit photographs, Wolford said.

“If there’s any advice that I can give to a parent, it’s to get the child to understand that with the way all these devices are connected these days, any picture that you take of yourself assume that the entire world is going to see it,” he said. “A lot of the times children are taking pictures of themselves, thinking that they’re going to a trusted person — even a known person — and it still can end up in the hands of someone that has not good intentions.”

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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