What do Osama bin Laden and an alleged child pornographer have to do with each other? Last week, the FBI announced that Eric Justin Toth, a former private school teacher in Washington, D.C., has filled bin Laden’s spot on the “Ten Most Wanted” list nearly a year after the notorious leader of al-Qaeda was killed.
The FBI is not necessarily saying that the world’s most infamous terrorist and an accused child pornographer are equally fearsome: one threatened national security, the other threatens the personal security of children. A quick comparison of the rewards offered in conjunction with information leading to the arrest of either man made it clear that bin Laden was a particularly high-profile outlaw: the FBI offered $25 million for intel leading directly to his arrest; Toth, by comparison, warrants a paltry $100,000.
But just the fact that the FBI is including a fugitive who’s accused of producing and possessing child pornography is significant. Toth — 6-ft.-3-in. and 155 lbs., with brown hair, green eyes and a mole under his left eye — allegedly produced child porn in Maryland; X-rated images were also reportedly found in June 2008 on a school camera he had been using. “He possesses an educational background conducive to gaining employment in fields having a connection to children,” according to his bio on the Top Ten list.
David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes against Children Research Center (CCRC) at the University of New Hampshire, says the number of offenders arrested for child porn has grown thanks to new techniques, including the ability of law enforcement to monitor traffic on peer-to-peer file-sharing networks. “It’s made monitoring and arrest of these individuals much easier,” says Finkelhor. “We are in a phase of cracking down on it.”
At the same time, the incidence of sex offenses has been dropping dramatically since the mid-1990s. Child molestation by casual acquaintances and sexual abuse by caregivers decreased 61% from 1992 to 2009, according to CCRC. The drop was likely a result of increased awareness, better prosecution and school-based prevention programs; aggressive pursuit by state agencies and the FBI may have played a role too.
Over the years, the composition of the Most Wanted list has evolved along with the FBI’s priorities. According to a spokeswoman for the FBI who asked not to be named:
Through the 1950s, the list was primarily comprised of bank robbers, burglars and car thieves. Once into the radical 1960s, the list reflected the revolutionaries of the times, with destruction of government property, sabotage and kidnapping dominating the list. During the 1970s, with the FBI’s concentration on organized crime and terrorism, the ‘Ten Most Wanted Fugitives’ included many fugitives with organized crime ties or links to terrorist groups. In the 1980s and 1990s, the list included sexual predators, international terrorists and drug traffickers.
This emphasis, along with crimes against children, white-collar crime and gang violence, continues today. Crime today knows no boundaries and these types of international and/or cyber crimes pose the greatest challenge for law enforcement officials around the world.
Toth is the fourth fugitive accused of child porn-related crimes to appear on the Most Wanted list. He is thought to have traveled west, visiting Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota. He apparently lived in Arizona as recently as 2009 and traveled to Washington state in 2011, according to the Seattle Times, which reports that he still could be there.
Washington could be a good place to settle down for a child pornographer who happens to be a teacher. Male elementary school teachers — even male preschool teachers — aren’t unusual there. Schools and parents, be on guard; as Finkelhor notes: “This is somebody who seems to have the capability of getting into the good graces of people who have children.”