In one of the first cases of its kind, federal prosecutors are seeking the extradition of a foreign national suspected of producing and distributing hundreds of lewd pictures of young girls across the Internet. An outcry arose against him in his home country of Paraguay.
Milton Xiscatti-Michel is charged in U.S. District Court in Baltimore with 31 counts of shipping child pornography to the United States by computer. He is accused of having taken the pictures of children ages 6 to 11 after he told their parents he was a scout for a worldwide modeling company.
In his Web site, Xiscatti-Michel has defended his practices as art, prompting the Paraguayan newspapers to dub him "El Artista." The accusations against him caused at least one protest in Asuncion, the Paraguayan capital, where reporters and photographers have chased him in the streets.
The U.S. government rarely pursues child pornography suspects in other countries. U.S. justice officials said they opted to prosecute Xiscatti-Michel because Paraguayan penalties are not sufficently severe.
A squad of seven FBI and Customs agents had gone to Paraguay to investigate the case after an FBI agent in Maryland, Michael DuBois, noticed pornographic pictures Xiscatti-Michel had allegedly posted on an Internet news group.
Federal prosecutors Andrew G. W. Norman and Andrew C. White wouldn't comment on negotiations between the U.S. government and Paraguay.
Xiscatti-Michel is considered a fugitive, prosecutors said. He is believed to have fled to Argentina with his lawyer's help, according to the Paraguayan daily newspaper La Nacion. He vanished from his house in the small town of Obligado on Monday, the day his extradition order was signed.
Paraguayan officials are investigating how Xiscatti-Michel and his attorney found out about the U.S. charges.
He is accused of persuading impoverished parents to let their young daughters model for him, telling them they could become Argentine models. The girls were promised about $250 to pose unclothed for photographs.
Sun staff writers Gail Gibson, Allison Klein and Caitlin Francke contributed to this article.