Antonio Cardenas case: FBI agent tracked down a paedophile who abused boys - including his nephews
- Antonio Cardenas, 33, was last week sentenced to 35 years in prison, and will be on supervised probation for the rest of his life
- He fled to Mexico after images the abuse began circulating online, fast becoming among the most popularly traded child pornography in the world
- But he still kept in touch with the victim with weekly phone calls and emails
- He told the FBI that he hadn't hurt the boy and that authorities had when they talked to him about the abuse
By Emine Sinmaz
PUBLISHED: 14:41 EST, 25 June 2012 | UPDATED: 18:08 EST, 25 June 2012
An FBI special agent who tracked down a paedophile and brought him to justice has spoken out about how cooperation from the victim’s family and dedication helped solve the horrific crime.
Antonio Cardenas, 33, was last week sentenced to 35 years in prison, and will be on supervised probation for the rest of his life, for repeatedly molesting a Utah boy, now 15, and filming the appalling acts.
The sexual abuse began when the boy, who suffers from a learning disability, was encouraged to enroll in a mentoring program in 2004, after he was teased by his classmates.
But Cardenas, who was appointed the seven-year-old’s mentor, instead molested and raped him. He continued to do so until 2009, which is when he fled to Mexico after images of him abusing the boy began circulating online.
Jailed: Antonio Cardenas, 33, was last week sentenced to 35 years in prison, and will be on supervised probation for the rest of his life, for repeatedly molesting a Utah boy, now 15, and filming the appalling acts
Cardenas had filmed the acts and passed them on to a friend who posted them on to the internet, where they quickly became among the most popularly traded child pornography in the world, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
But the paedophile's apprehension was not easy.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children had seen the shocking footage in June 2009 and passed it on FBI special agent Jeff Ross, who was tasked with identifying the Hispanic man and young boy in the distressing film.
At first it was not clear if the pictures showed other victims being abused too, but Ross’ investigation ‘cemented the fact that it was the same kid, over several years in Utah and Nevada,’ he said.
But despite sending pictures of the boy to schools in Utah, reviewing Hispanics listed in the state’s sex offender database and canvassing hotels in the Las Vegas where some of the abuse had taken place, the agent was no closer to determining the identities of the two.
'It was a massive undertaking that led to absolutely nothing,' Ross told the newspaper. 'It was frustrating. We didn’t find anything.'
Justice: U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups, pictured in June 2007, sentenced Cardenas to 35 years in a federal prison
But a breakthrough came in October 2009 after FBI agents in Los Angeles investigating a ring of paedophiles who traded images of child pornography were led to a Missouri man who had posted images of the Utah boy in question being abused.
The man gave agents the victim’s name, and Cardenas’, whom he said had moved to Mexico.
Utah authorities told Ross that the child had in fact tried to reach out about the abuse before, telling a school official in 2008 that Cardenas had forced him to watch dirty movies, but later retracting his statement.
But when he was interviewed by Ross, the boy recounted the years of horrific abuse he had suffered at the hands of the man who was supposed to be his role model.
His outraged mother told how the family had trusted Cardenas, letting him attend a family holiday and even take the boy on a trip to Las Vegas. He had also stayed in touch with the boy after returning to Mexico with weekly phone calls and emails.
JEFF ROSS AND THE CASE OF ELIZABETH SMART
FBI special agent Jeff Ross was also pivotal in the imprisonment of Elizabeth Smart's kidnapper.
The 14-year-old was abducted from her bed at her home in Salt Lake City, Utah, at knifepoint in June 2002 by Brian David Mitchell.
Smart said Mitchell took her to an encampment near Salt Lake City pronounced her his wife, and raped her repeatedly. He also forced her to view pornography, drink alcohol and watch him and wife Wanda Barzee engage in sexual activity.
Ross was the agent who interrogated Mitchell on March 12, 2003 on the day of his arrest, where he said God had commanded him to abduct the girl, now 24.
During the two hours of fierce questioning, Mitchell said Smart had had a 'glorious experience' with him during her nine months in captivity.
His answers were used against him in his trial and he was sentenced to life in prison. Wanda Barzee was sentenced in May 2010 to 15 years for her involvement in the case after she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit kidnapping.
Ross had to find out a way of bringing Cardenas back to the U.S. and the boy’s mother had a plan. She said she would pretend the family were throwing a surprise party for the boy, whose birthday is in early January, and invite Cardenas along.
It was a difficult plan for the mother, as she was forced to talk to the man who had repeatedly abused her son as if nothing had happened, in the hopes that he would attend the party.
'She reached out to Tony and lucky enough for us, that’s exactly what he did,' Ross said. 'We would still be dealing with all kinds of treaties, just trying to locate him and get him up here but we used the mom and she was awesome. We wouldn’t have him in custody if it weren’t for her.'
Cardenas was arrested on the day of the surprise party in January 2010. 'We had him in custody thanks in large part to mom’s ability to keep her cool and play this script we had written out,' Ross said.
Two months later, the agent was working with Interpol in Lyon, France, on child pornography cases when he came across footage of three boys being abused my a Hispanic man while they slept. 'It was the same guy,' Ross said.
Until then, Cardenas' family had refused to believe the allegations against him, but when they were shown the new footage to see if they recognised any of the children, they revealed it was Cardenas' own nephews.
'Until that point [Cardenas] was going to go to trial and make us put this kid on the stand and talk about all [these] things,' Ross said. 'Once we showed the family photos of him molesting his own nephews, that’s when he decided he wasn’t going to fight this any longer.'
After his arrest, Cardenas allegedly told the FBI that he had not hurt the boy. 'You guys hurt him when you talked to him about what happened,' he said, according to the newspaper.
In February this year, Cardenas admitted to travelling from Utah to Las Vegas to engage in a sexual act with a child under the age of 12, between June 2005 and July 2006. He also admitted to engaging in sexual acts with the child in Utah before and after the trip to Las Vegas.
As part of his plea agreement, prosecutors dropped other counts of aggravated sexual abuse, production of child pornography and distribution of child pornography and agreed to recommend he spend 30 years, rather than life, in prison.
But U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups said that given the age of the victim, and the abuse of his family's trust, he would have to add another five years, according to the newspaper.
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