U.S. Homeland Security Kept Undercover Sex Tourism Website
March 9, 2011
Massachusetts-based web hosting firm removed the site from its servers due to complaints
The Smoking Gun
March 9, 2011
In an aggressive bid to entice prospective “sex tourists,” the Department of Homeland Security last year launched an undercover web site that purported to arrange trips from the U.S. to Canada, where clients could engage in sexual activity with minors, The Smoking Gun has learned.
The “Precious Treasure Holiday Company” web site was active until a few weeks ago when its Massachusetts-based web hosting firm removed the site from its servers, apparently in response to a complaint about its content. Now, visitors to precioustreasureholidaycompany.com are greeted with the message, “This site has been suspended.”
After a year online, the DHS undercover site may have fallen victim to its own sleazy, overt come-on. As seen at right, the site’s front page carried three symbols that an FBI intelligence bulletin has identified as being used by pedophiles. Additionally, the site’s acronym, PTHC, is an allusion to “preteen hardcore” pornography. The site’s carefully misspelled motto–“We Help Make Your Fantasy’s Come True!”–also does little to mask its illicit intentions.
An account executive with the hosting firm, who appeared unaware that “Precious Treasure Holiday Company” was a government operation, said that following a site’s suspension an internal investigation is launched. Upon the review’s completion, a site is either reinstated or terminated. The executive, Jason Crawford, added that if a customer’s site is found to contain illicit material like child pornography, the FBI is contacted.
[Five years ago, FBI agents concocted a similar sting, launching “Wicked Adventures Travel,” a web site purporting to offer pedophiles "exotic excursions" to the Philippines and Thailand. That operation yielded at least one felony conviction.]
According to court records and several sources familiar with the sting operation, the “Precious Treasure Holiday Company” web site was operated by investigators assigned to DHS’s Cleveland office. In affidavits sworn by Agent Gabriel Hagan, the undercover web site is described as “offering ‘international travel’ from Cleveland, Ohio, to Canada for the purpose of engaging in sexually explicit conduct with minors.” While records reveal that the site was first registered in February 2010, further details about its owner (as well as administrative and technical contacts) have been carefully cloaked.
To draw visitors–and potential targets–to the site, DHS agents early last year began seeding a wide variety of sketchy web sites with mentions of (and links to) “Precious Treasure Holiday Company.” Investigators touted the undercover business on Russian and Swedish web sites, assorted chat rooms, and online destinations with words like “jailbait” in their addresses.
Using the online handle “otra,” one individual has been particularly enthusiastic in trying to drive traffic to the undercover operation. Posting on several sites, “otra” enthused that “Precious Treasure Holiday Company” was a “great place for real incest” and the “only place for the real thing.” In one online profile, “otra”–who is described as a Canadian male–opted for a profile photo (seen at left) showing a hand in a masturbatory position. Shortly after the DHS site went live, an anonymous poster on a Swedish bulletin board reported that, “I found a website where you can travel to go have sex with kids.” After including the nascent undercover operation’s web address, the poster added, “This website…is an actually thriving business that is legit.”
While it is difficult to gauge the overall success of DHS’s efforts to drum up visitors, the “Precious Treasure Holiday Company” operation has led to the conviction of at least one defendant on felony charges (he was recently sentenced to 20 years in prison), while another man is under indictment for conspiring to transport an eight-year-old girl from Canada to the U.S. with the intent of having her engage in sexual activity.
Federal court records indicate that two other individuals became targets of the DHS operation after visiting the undercover web site last year and engaging in subsequent e-mail exchanges with investigators. One subject is a former Marine now deployed in the Middle East with the Army Reserves.
In every instance, targets have visited the undercover web site and sought, via e-mail, additional information about “Precious Treasure Holiday Company” offerings. Agents responded by sending back a “brochure” with details of the sex tour to Canada. The brochure, a court filing reported, also “requested answers to specific questions so not to disappoint the customer.” These included queries about the preferred age of the minors with whom the prospective sex tourist sought to consort. The brochure also noted that a female employee would accompany customers to Canada (this role has been played by Agent Hagan).
In some cases, a target was also provided a username and password that would allow access to a section of the DHS site containing an online “catalog” of girls aged eight to 14. Two men were arrested last year when they traveled to meet a child advertised in this catalog.
The enlisted man snared by the “Precious Treasure Holiday Company” web site, TSG has learned, is Sergeant Jason Talbott, a 32-year-old Washington State native.