Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S., Russia Unite to Fight Child Sex

When Moscow police searched Vsevolod Solntsev-Elbe's apartment in December, they found the videos shrink-wrapped in boxes for National Geographic nature films, with pictures of rhinos, giraffes and pandas.

When they watched the tapes, they first saw nature documentaries. But then a new logo flashed on the screen followed by the feature film: children having sex.

Police also found Solntsev-Elbe's mailing list. One of the names on it was Glenn Martikean, a 44-year-old American from northern Indiana. E-mails showed he was coming to Moscow.

When he arrived Jan. 24, Eduard Lapatik, head of the section of Moscow's criminal search unit that handles sex crimes against children, was as ready as he could be.

"We decided, if he is going to be our guest, the guest of the police, it will be safer for our children than if he just comes on his own," Lapatik said. "We started the game."

An undercover policeman met Martikean, posing as a pimp. Martikean told him that he wanted to have sex with little boys.

When a young boy went into Martikean's room in the Intourist hotel, police were listening, waiting.

"As soon as we heard him say 'please get undressed,' police burst in and took the boy out of the room," Lapatik said. "But the boy was 14, so Glenn had committed no crime."

In Russia, that is. Since 1996, when parliament voted to lower the age of consent, it has been legal for adults in Russia to have sex with children from the age of 14.

Lapatik would get his man anyway, but Russian law would have nothing to do with it. Last Friday, as a result of the Moscow police investigation, Martikean was indicted in Indiana on six federal counts of trading in pornography and traveling with the intent of having sex with minors, including a charge dating as far back as 1986.

Without the Russians, Martikean might never have been caught. But his case also shows how much more difficult it is to protect children under Russian law than it is in the West.

Over the past few years, the Internet has helped bring about a global explosion of child pornography, making it far easier than ever before for traffickers to sell and distribute their wares, and for pedophiles to communicate with each other. The good news is that the profusion of child pornography on the Internet has also lured pedophiles into the open, making it easier for police to trace and catch them. But that only helps if laws are in place to put them in jail.

Perhaps nowhere has the law proved as inadequate to that task as Russia, which U.S. law enforcement officials say is now probably the world's leading exporter of photographs and videos of children having sex.

Not only does Russia have an unusually low age of consent, it also has no law whatsoever against the possession or procurement of child pornography.

A statute does prohibit manufacturing "pornography" for sale, or trafficking in it. But it does not distinguish between porn involving children and that involving consenting adults. As a result, it is considered a minor, victimless crime, punishable by a maximum of two years in prison.

Solntsev-Elbe's Blue Orchid ring was the third major group of Internet child pornography traffickers that Lapatik's team uncovered last year with customers all across the globe.

Mailing lists obtained by Russian police from the three rings have led to hundreds of leads in the United States and Europe. Many of these clients face jail.

Not so the Russian ringleaders. Most have either not been charged with any crime at all, or have served sentences lasting months for offenses that would carry heavy terms of imprisonment in the West. The leniency of Russian law extends not only to those who sell pornography, but to those who make it.

No Russian child pornographer is more well known, or apparently more prolific, than Vladimir Timofeyev, described by one Western law enforcement official in Moscow as "the Steven Spielberg of Russian child pornography."

In the mid-1990s, Timofeyev ran a complete child porn production studio in the small town of Novokuibyshevsk, near Samara. He had a stable of children whom he filmed having sex.

How many? Lapatik says, "We stopped counting in the third hundred."

Timofeyev's films formed the core of the libraries sold by all three Moscow rings: Kuznetsov, Minayev and Solntsev-Elbe. He became a cult figure among pedophiles. Sex tourists were caught flying into Moscow with Novokuibyshevsk on their itineraries.

At last, in 1998, Timofeyev was caught and convicted. He was sentenced to two years for having sex with minors and two more for manufacturing pornography. Last year's amnesty halved his sentence and in December he walked out of prison. In America, possessing a few of Timofeyev's works could lead to five years in jail.

So far there has been little public outcry in response to Russia's explosion of pedophilia and child pornography rings. The issue has had scant attention in the media, although a television documentary on the subject is to air this week.

In the State Duma, there is little sign of debate on the woefully inadequate laws. Asked to comment on the absence of a law explicitly banning child pornography, Vera Lekareva, deputy head of the Duma committee for women, family and youth, said: "Russia's system of protection for children is highly developed.

As for lowering the age of consent to 14: "No, this was not a step backward," she said.

"Taking into account the peculiarities of age, taking into account that this is now the era of technical breakthroughs in information — physiological development now comes considerably earlier. So we have decided to legalize relations where there is love at first sight and that sort of thing."

Lapatik winces when told of her reply. "Does she mean love at first sight between a grown man and a little boy?"

With little legal ammunition to use against Russia's child pornographers, Lapatik finds solace in helping to catch their clients abroad.

Cooperation between his unit and foreign law enforcement has blossomed into remarkable professional relationships, especially with customs agents based at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

U.S. customs officials say any reservations they might have had about dealing with Russian police were quickly dispelled.

"These guys are policemen," said Marshall Heeger, a U.S. customs agent based in Moscow. "This doesn't have anything to do with politics or diplomacy. This is just policemen working together to put people who break the law in jail."

That cooperation reached its height in the case of Martikean, whom Lapatik's police released after he asked the 14-year-old boy to take off his clothes in the Intourist hotel.

The Russians had already passed Martikean's name on to U.S. customs as a Blue Orchid customer. While he was in Moscow, U.S. agents searched his home in Portage, Indiana. They found a box labeled "Glenn's stuff," with "approximately 280 printed-out images depicting pre-pubescent boys, approximate age range from 8 to 12, engaging in sexual activity with one another" says a U.S. affidavit for his arrest.

Still in Moscow, Martikean learned about the search. To make sure he didn't flee before he arrived back in the States, Heeger went under cover, disguised as a fellow pedophile, and flew back with him, winning his confidence.

In recorded conversations, Martikean told Heeger that he had gone to Moscow to have sex with boys, and that he had had sex with about 30 children in the past. When they reached Chicago, they got into a cab for Martikean's house. The taxi was an undercover police car. Martikean was arrested before he reached home.

Heeger beams when he talks about the cooperation between Russian and U.S. police.

"I think [pedophiles] need to understand we're going to continue to work together. This is not a happenstance thing," he said. "I don't care whether they're from America or Russia or from any other country, wherever they go, we, law enforcement, are going to track you down, and we're going to get you."

Lapatik, too, is proud of his work. But something stings.

"I'm glad that someone who came to Russia to have sex [with a child] will be punished, and we could prove this through our joint efforts," he says.

"But personally — it hurts that for our boy, it's the United States government that will punish him."