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Underage Model Photographer Gary Smith Arrested
Undercover Investigations Examines 'Selling Innocence'
From kids posing on busy Chicago streets to more revealing shots taken at a secret photo studio, Smith is cashing in big. Smith is part of the booming Internet industry of child erotica. He sells their pictures and videos on his website, where prosecutors said he is selling to a select market that includes pedophiles. "I think it's obscene," said Dan Stewart, prosecutor for Sebastian County, Ark. "You're dealing with individuals who are preying upon children."
A 14-year-old model said she made a thousand dollars in her first week and told us she doesn't want to think about who is paying to see her pose. "It?s just something you don't think about because that just ruins your fun," said Adrienne. Unit 5 went undercover into a Halloween party staged by Smith. At the party, he allowed website customers to meet 16, 15, even 14-year-old girls in person.
We also revealed his photo studio at a northside Chicago home. It is an operation with annual revenues in the millions according to police sources, who are now investigating Smith after what we uncovered. Gary Smith is also a convicted child molester.
We've learned a nationwide criminal investigation is underway and the secrets behind Gary smith's operation are about to unfold.
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How could a convicted child molester open a child-modeling studio in a Chicago neighborhood? It is a question for both local and federal authorities, who are on the trail of the man behind the operation, Gary Smith. Smith is a 35-year-old computer specialist who's wanted by police in Ark. He was convicted in 1998 of sexually assaulting a man's 15-year old daughter.
"He had her pinned against the side of the car, trying to take her clothes off and kissing on her," said Bill Lincks, the father of the sexually assaulted teen. Smith was ordered to get counseling in an agreement to avoid prison. "I have gone through several counseling sessions ? about a dozen," said Smith. But prosecutors in Arkansas said he?s in violation of his sentencing agreement and could get ten years in prison.
They're also stunned to learn what we found out about Smith's business. A Unit 5 surveillance video shows young girls going to his home where he takes their pictures. They even meet him at hotel rooms. Smith said parents approve of what he's doing.
And Unit 5 found he even sells tickets to website customers, who can meet the girls in person and take custom photos at parties. Authorities believe many of the photos are crossing the line. "I believe this violates the Ark. statue of child pornography," said Ark. prosecutor Dan Stewart.
He issued a new warrant for Smith's arrest. "I think that it's absolutely horrible and something needs to be done about it," Stewart said. Something is being done. We've learned Smith is the subject of an FBI investigation. "I?ve been under investigation by the FBI for four or five months now," said Smith.
Law enforcement sources close to the Smith case told Unit 5, the FBI has information about a 12-year-old girl who Smith allegedly forced to pose nude in a Missouri hotel room earlier this year. The pictures are part of an alleged secret collection called the "Golden Pictures". "It makes me sick to my stomach that someone like Gary Smith is still preying and profiting from something that?s as serious as he's doing," said Bill Lincks.
Smith wants to send a message to police and FBI agents investigating him. He said everything he does is perfectly legal. Five days after a Unit 5 interview with Smith, the Cook County sheriff's police raided Gary?s home.
Police said there were $200,000 worth of computer equipment inside and they seized it, along with thousands of computer discs and videos. Police even found spotlights over some of the beds and drugs in one of the rooms.
Smith was arrested on his Ark. warrant and sent to the Cook County jail. As for his arrest on the violation of his plea agreement, Smith posted bond and is free until the governor signs a warrant to send him back to Ark. That could take up to 90 days.
The Cook County sheriff's police are examining all of his files they confiscated and said "their investigation into Mr. Smith and his business activities is continuing and expanding in scope." Smith denied the drugs found in the house are his.
We've also learned five people have been arrested on pornography charges stemming from other teen modeling websites. According to U.S. Dept. of Justice sources, three people were indicted in Missouri, including the parents of a girl who we've learned once appeared on Smith?s website.
Federal officials said their investigation is continuing. The money is so big, parents are setting up websites like Smith's all over the country, selling images of their own kids on line.
In the days and weeks to come, we'll have the results of a joint investigation we conducted with the investigative team from our sister station in Miami.
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