Updated: child porn case casts nationwide net

Police ask victims to come forward

Morgan Hill Police received a tip late last year that turned into a nationwide investigation into the production and sharing of child pornography. As of this week, the investigation has implicated 18 people, according to authorities. 

Two suspects identified by police from the initial tip—both South County residents—are accused of producing child pornography by sexually assaulting children on camera, and sharing the images with other alleged criminals.

In hopes of identifying some of the victims found in illegal images and videos uncovered by recent search warrants related to the multi-state investigation, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office June 21 released the name and booking photo of one of the suspects who lives in San Jose.

That suspect, Graham Bessermin, 38, has worked closely with children throughout the region, from Santa Cruz to San Francisco, according to the DA’s office.

Morgan Hill Police arrested Bessermin at the local police station on Memorial Day, according to Deputy DA O’Bryan Kenney. Local officers identified Bessermin as the recipient of child pornography material after spending the previous months investigating a tip received in November 2018. 

Graham Bessermin

Investigators contacted Bessermin and asked him to visit the Morgan Hill police station to answer officers’ questions, Kenney said. He did so on May 27, and that’s when he was arrested on suspicion of child pornography-related crimes.

Police noted that they seized suspected child pornography videos from Bessermin’s phone.

The DA’s office subsequently charged Bessermin with possession of child pornography and communicating with a minor for sex, according to Kenney. He was arraigned May 31. Bessermin is still in custody at Santa Clara County Jail on $300,000 bail. His next hearing is scheduled for July 9 at the Morgan Hill Courthouse.

Most recently, Bessermin worked as a nighttime supervisor at the Edgewood Center for Children and Families in San Francisco, according to authorities. Managers at Edgewood have been cooperating with police during the investigation.

Bessermin has also served as a baseball umpire for high school students through the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League for several years, and worked with teens ages 13-17 at the Camp Recovery Center: Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment in Scotts Valley between 2007 and 2017, according to authorities.

The investigation into the full extent of Bessermin’s crimes is ongoing, reads a press release from the DA’s office.

“Local law enforcement will track down every cyber lead to find those who trade in child pornography, and our office will hold them criminally accountable,” Kenney said. “These are not just images. They are real children, children who are exploited and abused.”

MHPD Sgt. Bill Norman said Bessermin “has had a lot of contact with minors, and we want to make sure that potential victims can come forward and seek some kind of justice.”

Anyone who thinks they have been a victim of Bessermin’s can call Morgan Hill Police Det. Chris Woodrow at (669) 253-4895, or email him at [email protected]

Tip led to ‘spider’s web’

Bessermin is not the first suspect arrested in what Norman described as a “spider’s web” of an investigation, but authorities so far have been tight-lipped about the allegations against others arrested.

In November, MHPD received a cyber tip about a local social media account that was uploading child pornography, according to police. The initial investigation led police to two local suspects—one a Morgan Hill resident and one from San Martin—who were likely in possession of child pornography.

Detectives learned these two suspects had been assaulting children younger than 10 and producing child pornography, police said. The two suspects repeatedly filmed or photographed themselves assaulting the children, and shared these “homemade” images with other suspects, Norman said.

These two suspects have been arrested and charged, according to the DA’s press release. Kenney said investigators are not publicly naming these two male suspects because authorities are currently focused primarily on identifying any potential victims related to the Bessermin case.

Local police continued to investigate and learned that the two initial suspects had shared child pornography media with various other suspects, including Bessermin, Norman said. Bessermin, in turn, had shared the child pornography material with other recipients, who may also be guilty of crimes.

A Times review of court records found that the two suspects initially investigated as a result of the tip to MHPD are Jose Gutierrez, of San Martin, and Connor Rinehart, of Morgan Hill. Police investigative reports allege they used social media messaging platforms to share explicit videos and images depicting themselves with child victims, which the two suspects had produced. 

Gutierrez and Rinehart were charged in January with felony counts of possession of child pornography and sexual acts with a child younger than 10, according to court records. Both are in jail custody with no bail. 

Norman explained that criminals involved in child pornography often share the illegal images and videos with others, typically through the internet. This case is not an exception, and has thus far sparked the investigation of 18 people nationwide who have sent or received child pornography from the two initial suspects. Norman thinks that number will grow as law enforcement agencies in other jurisdictions continue to investigate.

“It was a very detailed and lengthy investigation,” Norman said. “It gets to a point where you start getting into a multi-state, nationwide kind of spider’s web because all these (suspects) share their media, and once they do that it’s a crime.”

He further explained that possession, sharing, production and downloading of child pornography are each separate crimes, according to the state penal code.

When asked how many victims are involved in the multi-suspect investigation so far, Norman said, “There’s a lot.” He said police are in the process of identifying victims in the related child pornography images, and authorities hope that releasing Bessermin’s name, photo and background details will help lead to those identifications.

Norman praised Det. Woodrow for his determination and patience in following through with the investigation for six months and procuring information that identified multiple suspects accused of harming children.

“Chris is a very tenacious detective who went above and beyond,” Norman said. “He went to the DA, and reached out to the specific crime units involved in these outside jurisdictions to hand them the investigation on a platter.”

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