A California businessman who entered the country 28 years ago as a young refugee from Afghanistan has been arrested on multiple counts of child sex charges.
Qayed Murtaza Shareef, 39, is founder of Irvine-based Adaptive Media, a publicly traded company that helps clients with digital and video advertising.
Police believe Shareef used his digital video skills to ensnare two young boys in Virginia, convincing them to send him videos of themselves engaged in various sex acts. Within an hour of contacting them electronically, the conversation "turned sexual," according to an investigator.
Shareef allegedly engaged in “sexually explicit conversations” with a 10-year-old boy and a 9-year-old boy through an online texting application called Tango. The contact occurred between Christmas Day 2013 and Dec. 29 of that year, Deputy District Attorney Vanessa Woods told the Patch, an online news service in southern California.
Shareef allegedly used the phony name "Jeremy Stevens" in his communications with the boys.
He instructed the boys, who are brothers, on what sex acts he wanted them to perform with each other while photographing and videotaping them with a tablet they were using, Woods alleged.
The boys would purportedly then send the pornographic images of themselves to Shareef, Woods told the Patch.
Shareef also performed sex acts on himself, which he captured on video, and sent to the brothers to instruct them on what he wanted them to do, Woods alleged. Shareef is also accused of sending the boys adult pornography, Woods told the Patch.
The mother of one of the boys reportedly saw the correspondence on the tablet Dec. 30, 2013, and called local police in Virginia.
It took a year to put the case together, in part because investigators had to seek multiple subpoenas of computer records to make their case, Woods said.
A culture of pedophilia
Having grown up in rural Afghanistan, Shareef could have been exposed to the tribal practice of "Bacha Bazi," in which Muslim men in some tribal societies use adolescent boys for sex. The reasons why this custom is pervasive among tribal warlords in rural Afghanistan vary: some experts have postulated that it is done to avoid engaging in premarital sex with women, which is forbidden by the Quran. Others say the warlords were not very religious to begin with but only used Islam to rally young men to their military cause, then abused them. Regardless of the reasons, Afghanistan has a reputation for widespread pedophilia as documented in many articles and was even the theme for the 2003 book, "The Kite Runner," by Afghan-American Khaled Hosseini. The book was made into a movie in 2007.
Many establishment media outlets have reported on the practice of "Bacha Bazi," including the New York Times and the Times of London, which did articles in 2002, and Foreign Policy magazine, which published an article in October 2013. The practice was prevalent among the mujahideen during the Russian invasion and occupation when rural warlords, especially the Pashtuns, Tajiks and Hazara across Afghanistan's eastern and northern rural areas, would purchase adolescent boys as conscripts and also use them for sex. It became a sign of social status to have several "chai boys." The Pashtuns tend to be Sunni while the Tajiks and Hazara are Shia, so the practices is thought to transcend any religious lines.
"Whereas rural Pashtun culture remains largely misogynistic and male-dominated due to deeply-ingrained Islamic values, teenage boys have become the objects of lustful attraction and romance for some of the most powerful men in the Afghan countryside," Foreign Policy reported in 2013. "Demeaning and damaging, the widespread subculture of pedophilia in Afghanistan constitutes one of the most egregious ongoing violations of human rights in the world. The adolescent boys who are groomed for sexual relationships with older men are bought – or, in some instances, kidnapped – from their families and thrust into a world which strips them of their masculine identity. These boys are often made to dress as females, wear makeup, and dance for parties of men. They are expected to engage in sexual acts with much older suitors, often remaining a man’s or group’s sexual underling for a protracted period."
The Taliban attempted to stamp out the practice of Bacha Bazi when it came to power after the Russians left, according to both the New York Times and Foreign Policy. But the tribal practice was never fully eradicated and now seems more entrenched than ever.
Estimates range as high as 50 percent of all Afghan boys in some areas have been abused by Bacha Bazi.
"Because it is so common, a significant percentage of the country’s male population bears the deep psychological scars of sexual abuse from childhood. Some estimates say that as many as 50 percent of the men in the Pashtun tribal areas of southern Afghanistan take boy lovers, making it clear that pedophilia is a pervasive issue affecting entire rural communities," According to Foreign Policy. "Many of the prominent Pashtun men who currently engage in bacha bazi were likely abused as children; in turn, many of today’s adolescent victims will likely become powerful warlords or government-affiliated leaders with boy lovers of their own, perpetuating the cycle of abuse."
The U.S. has taken in 9,868 United Nation-certified refugees from Afghanistan since 2002, according to a U.S. State Department database.
Concerns there could be more victims
Police said they believe Shareef could have more victims and are asking anyone with information to call Sheriffs Sgt. Wade Walsviek at (714) 647-7418 or Supervising District Attorney Investigator Kelly Core at (714) 347-8794.
Shareef could face up to 752 years to life in prison if convicted at trial. He is being held on a $2 million bond and was ordered to return to court March 27 for a pretrial hearing.
Shareef’s attorney, Ricardo Nicol, issued the following statement to the media:
"Mr. Shareef was born in Afghanistan. As a child he and his family experienced first hand the horrors and trauma of war following the Soviet invasion. He was a child refugee in India. He arrived in the United States at the age of 11 with his mother and brother. His father remained in Afghanistan as a freedom fighter.
"In America, Qayed excelled in school and sports. He is a husband and father. He is a well-respected businessman. He is a generous contributor to charitable causes. He has the support of his family and his colleagues. His defense team has not yet been presented with evidence of these allegations. Mr. Shareef maintains his innocence. He is confident that he will be vindicated through the legal process."
Shareef was arrested at his residence on Jan. 21 by members of the Orange County Child Exploitation Task Force and officers from other law enforcement agencies.
He was replaced as CEO of Adaptive Media on Jan. 27.
The company’s website said he has 18 years of experience in digital marketing and advertising.