Slain FBI agents worked to protect children from abusers

Special Agents Daniel Alfin and Laura Schwartzenberger were both experienced in investigating child pornography and sexual exploitation cases in South Florida

By Aaron Leibowitz, David Ovalle, and Jay Weaver
The Miami Herald

SUNRISE, Fla. — The two FBI agents fatally shot while serving a warrant Tuesday morning in Sunrise were Daniel Alfin and Laura Schwartzenberger, both of whom had a distinguished history of investigating child pornography and sexual exploitation cases in South Florida.

FBI Director Christopher Wray identified the two in a statement on Tuesday.

"Every day, FBI special agents put themselves in harm's way to keep the American people safe. Special Agent Alfin and Special Agent Schwartzenberger exemplified heroism today in defense of their country. The FBI will always honor their ultimate sacrifice and will be forever grateful for their bravery," Wray said in the statement.

Alfin, 36, was born in New York and began his career with the FBI in Albany in 2009, FBI Miami Special Agent in Charge George Piro said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon. Alfin joined the Miami field office in 2017 and worked crimes against children cases for six years, Piro said. He is survived by his wife and one child.

Schwartzenberger, 43, was born in Pueblo, Colorado, and became an FBI special agent in 2005 in Albuquerque, N.M. She moved to Miami in 2010 and spent seven years investigating crimes against children, Piro said. She had a husband and two children.

"Dan and Laura left home this morning to carry out the mission they signed up for and loved to do: to keep the American people safe," Piro said. "They were valuable members of the FBI and will forever be heroes."

Alfin had worked on multiple high-profile cases, according to court records and media coverage.

Last March, he helped bring a case against former Miami mayoral aide Rene Pedrosa for allegedly groping a teen boy at City Hall and exchanging lewd photos. Alfin authored the affidavit filed in support of federal charges against Pedrosa of production of child pornography, receipt of child pornography, and coercion and enticement of a minor to engage in sexual activity.

According to his affidavit in the Pedrosa case, Alfin had testified in federal court more than 20 times in more than 10 federal districts, and was assigned to the FBI's Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force in Miami.

Alfin was also involved in a large-scale FBI hacking campaign known as Operation Pacifier, designed to investigate crimes on the dark web and seize child pornography from a website called Playpen. Alfin testified in federal court that FBI and Department of Justice executives had approved a plan for the FBI to briefly operate the Playpen site after they seized it in an effort to identify users.

Playpen founder Steven W. Chase of Naples was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2017.

"It's the same with any criminal violation: As they get smarter, we adapt, we find them," Alfin said at the time in a story about the case published on the FBI website. "It's a cat-and-mouse game, except it's not a game. Kids are being abused, and it's our job to stop that."

Schwartzenberger wrote in a criminal affidavit last year that she was assigned to the Miami outpost of the agency's Innocent Images National Initiative, which investigates the online sexual exploitation of children.

"I have conducted and assisted in several child exploitation investigations and have executed search warrants that have led to seizures of child pornography," she said in the affidavit, which supported charges related to child porn and enticement of a minor by a North Miami Beach man.

In 2018, Schwartzenberger spoke to a local TV station in West Palm Beach to warn of a "sextortion" scam involving con artists who would falsely claim they hacked into people's webcams and then demand money to prevent the release of compromising photos.

"It is very traumatizing for the victim," Schwartzenberger told CBS12 News. "Their reputation is on the line."

Schwartzenberger was the lead agent in a sextortion case that led to a 50-year prison sentence for a Hialeah man who posed as a teenage female to induce about 300 boys to send him sexually explicit photos and videos of themselves.

At least twice in recent years, Schwartzenberger visited Rockway Middle School in Westchester to speak to students about online safety and cybercrimes, according to posts on social media.

"Great to have FBI Special Agent Laura Schwartzenberger join us to present to our 6th Grade Legal Studies & Forensic Science students about online safety and cyber crimes!" the school posted on Twitter last February.

The school, in a statement, thanked Schwartzenberger for teaching students in the law studies program.

"With her presentations, students would gain an awareness of online safety, cyberbullying and experience the evidence response process of an FBI agent," the statement said. "She would always answer all the students questions directly with care, but with firmness, to always remind them of the real world."

The statement also said: "She would always say, 'I feel that coming here and talking to you guys about the hard stuff means that I won't see you guys on my end.' "

On Tuesday morning, Alfin and Schwartzenberger were killed and three other FBI agents were wounded while serving a warrant at a home in Sunrise. After barricading himself in the home for several hours, the suspected gunman is believed to have shot and killed himself, a law enforcement source told the Herald.

Sunrise police said the man, who was suspected of child pornography possession, had holed up in his home at the Water Terrace apartment complex. The child pornography case was being investigated by the FBI and prosecuted by federal prosecutors in Fort Lauderdale.

Wray, in an email to FBI personnel, said "days like this are among the darkest days we face in the FBI."

"We're all heartbroken — particularly our colleagues in Miami who are reeling from this unthinkable loss. All of us across the FBI, in offices and divisions who worked with the special agents, and colleagues who have never had the chance to meet them, are all trying to also come to terms with this tragic loss. And yet, our grief cannot compare to that of the families of these two special agents."

(c)2021 Miami Herald

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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