St. Augustine meter reader arrested on child porn charges

Arrest made after cyber tip leads to hundreds of images of kids, deputies say

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ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Cyber tips led to the discovery of hundreds of images of child sexual abuse on a St. Augustine city employee's cellphone, authorities said.

The youngest child depicted might have been only 1 year old, according to the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office

Michael Joseph Valaro, 37, of St. Augustine, was arrested Monday and charged with 25 counts of possessing child pornography. 

According to his arrest report, the children seen in images were all girls ranging in age from 1 to 12. 

The report said that the images showed very young girls engaging in sex acts with adult males and also with other young girls. 

According to the report, a cyber tip led investigators to a Verizon cellphone number that belonged to Valaro. Chuck Mulligan, with the Sheriff's Office, said cyber tips come from people assigned to monitor the electronic transfers of child pornography.

"Whenever they cross paths on the internet and intercept that, they will notify that particular agency where the images were transmitted to," Mulligan told News4Jax on Wednesday,

The detective handling the case had Verizon Wireless subpoenaed, which led to the discovery of Valaro’s address in St. Augustine. 

The subpoena also led to the discovery of several hundred X-rated images of child sexual abuse that had been downloaded from the dark web on a cellphone and an iPad, the report stated. 

"This is an individual who's reaching out to underground networks looking for images, looking for videos of what his desires are," Mulligan said. 

When authorities raided Valaro's home Monday, he admitted to downloading images and videos of child pornography on a regular basis, according to the report.

Neighbors told News4Jax that Valaro was living in his parents' home on Wild Palm Court. They said the entire street was lined with deputies when law enforcement officers, some of whom had their faces covered, made entry into the home.

"I certainly don't want that kind of activity in this neighborhood," neighbor Sharon Brown said. 

Investigators said none of the girls depicted in the pornographic material were from the area, leading them to believe the children may be victims of sex trafficking, an industry that, according to law enforcement, is in high demand by people eager to download obscene images of children.  

"It's pretty sickening. It's frightening," St. Augustine resident Lisa Laughlin said. "You're in a community where there's lot of children."

The city of St. Augustine's Human Resources Division confirmed Valaro works as a city meter reader and has been employed since summer 2006.

Valaro was booked into the St. Johns County jail. His bond was set at $52,000. 

Dangers of the dark web

According to investigators, had it not been for someone intercepting a download of child pornography from the dark web, authorities would have never known about the hundreds of images allegedly on Valaro’s cellphone and iPad.

The Sheriff's Office spokesman said the the dark web is not only hard to find, but also unlike anything typically seen on the internet.

“You can’t just go to a search engine and type in what you’re looking for and it pulls up because, obviously, these are criminal activities," Mulligan said. "So, individuals will create a website address, which is very complex and doesn’t make any sense.”

Without a key code to that website, it's very difficult to locate it, let alone gain access to it. Mulligan said that’s why law enforcement officers go undercover to learn about dark sites that allow people to download images that are normally flagged on Google and other mainstream search engines. 

“The dark web is just a source for people to access whatever they want," Laughlin said.


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