By BRIAN WALKER
COEUR d'ALENE — Investigators believe there could be hundreds of victims across the country in a child pornography case related to the arrest of a 41-year-old Hayden man.
About 24,000 images of children, including hundreds that were of naked kids, were seized from electronic devices owned by Jason C. McGovern, said Paul Farina, a local investigator with the state's Internet Crimes Against Children Unit.
Farina said it is one of the largest, if not the largest, child porn cases he's handled in the six years he's been focusing on such crimes.
"We're asking for victims to contact us," Farina said. "We have a lot of kids to identify. We found so many images that it crashed my computer."
Farina said he also plans to collaborate with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to help identify victims.
"It's hard saying how many are local," he said.
Farina said McGovern, a registered sex offender who was convicted of child porn in 2010, used the screen name "R.J.", or Robert James, to disguise himself as a 14-year-old boy when he developed an online relationship with a 12-year-old girl in Randolph, N.J.
"The girl's mother discovered they sent photos back and forth," Farina said.
Police in Randolph investigated the case and determined the girl had been communicating with McGovern, he said.
"They were communicating on the social networking app Yellow and text messaging," Farina said. "He was grooming her, posting as a 14-year-old, and she fell for him."
Randolph police then contacted the Kootenai County Sheriff's Office, which turned the case over to Farina in May.
ICAC units on June 21 staked out two addresses where McGovern was believed to be, including on Walrose Loop in Hayden and at a transitional housing site on Sherman Avenue in Coeur d'Alene. He was arrested without incident after arriving at the Walrose address. The KCSO, Coeur d'Alene Police and FBI assisted in the arrest.
Farina said McGovern admitted to using the screen name R.J. to communicate with the New Jersey girl. McGovern was charged with 10 counts of child porn. Each count carries a maximum of 10 years in prison.
Farina said McGovern never had physical contact with the girl.
Farina said he hopes parents take an interest in who their children are communicating with. He said actions of the mother of the New Jersey girl led to the big child porn case and possibly prevented future victims.
"I praise the parents for looking at her phone and being active in their children's digital world," Farina said. "Who knows what would have happened if this continued. Learn what your kids are using and be their 'friend' (on social media). Question why their data use is so high and what they are using their phones for."
With so many social networking options, Farina said, child porn on the internet is rampant.
"Even Pinterest (an app for home ideas) is being invaded by child porn," he said. "If kids are exchanging nude pictures of each other, under the eyes of the law, it could be construed as child porn."
Farina said he's found that most of the suspects he's investigated in child porn cases are educated, middle- to upper-class men, not sex offenders such as McGovern. That's contrary to popular belief, he said.
Other possible victims are encouraged to contact Farina at (208) 446-1842 or firstname.lastname@example.org.