Newport Beach, county and federal authorities arrested a former Lake Forest planning commissioner last week after a months-long investigation found evidence of about 160 child pornography videos in his possession.
Jerry J. Zechmeister, 61, of Lake Forest was arrested June 19 on suspicion of possessing and distributing child pornography using file-sharing networks on his personal computer.
During the October search, investigators seized three computers and two external hard drives containing about 160 child pornography videos.
“The intervening months (between the search in October and the arrest in June) were used to process the forensic computer evidence, and to investigate that evidence,” Manzella explained.
Zechmeister was taken into custody by investigators from the Orange County Child Exploitation Task Force, including special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s, Homeland Security Investigations and detectives from the Newport Beach Police Department, according to a statement released Monday by ICE and NBPD.
Newport Beach authorities got involved after one of their detectives, who works on the task force, initiated the case, explained NBPD spokeswoman Jennifer Manzella.
“Child exploitation is a crime without regard for geographical boundaries,” said Captain Dale Johnson, Detective Division Commander for the Newport Beach Police Department. “Groups like the OCCETF allow personnel from multiple law enforcement agencies to work together to protect children in our local communities, and worldwide. The Newport Beach Police Department is honored to join other dedicated investigators throughout the country in a united goal to identify, investigate, and arrest child predators.”
Zechmeister had apparently been accessing and sharing the child exploitation images for about seven years, according to investigators who reviewed the files and examined the dates for when each video was created, last written and accessed.
“Each time an image of child pornography is viewed, that child is victimized again,” said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles. “HSI will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to ensure that those who harm children in this way – no matter their position – receive the justice they deserve.”
The case has been handed over to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office for prosecution.
Zechmeister’s arraignment is scheduled for July 31, 8:30 a.m., at the Newport Beach Harbor Justice Center.
The OCCETF is a collaborative law enforcement effort to identify, arrest and prosecute those involved in child sexual exploitation offenses, including child pornographers.
The Task Force encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through ICE’s toll-free hotline at 1-866-347-2423. Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a Task Force partner, at 1-800-843-5678 or cybertipline.com.