72 people charged in online child porn ring

And 52 of those suspects charged have already been arrested as part of the investigation, which the Justice Department launched in December 2009.

Federal law enforcement officials have charged 72 people for their alleged involvement in an online child pornography ring, the Department of Justice announced today.

Fifty-two of the people charged have already been arrested as part of the investigation, called Operation Delego, which the Justice Department launched in December 2009. So far, 13 of those 52 people have pleaded guilty and will serve terms ranging from 20 to 30 years in prison, the DOJ said. They will also face a lifetime of supervised release.

The individuals charged were allegedly members of Dreamboard, a private message board of more than 500 people who "promote pedophilia and encourage the sexual abuse of very young children, in an environment designed to avoid law enforcement detection," the Justice Department said. Members of the message board allegedly traded images and videos of children 12 years old and under being molested. The members also "created a massive private library of images of child sexual abuse."

"As alleged in court documents, Dreamboard was a self-described global 'community' of pedophiles dedicated to the relentless victimization and exploitation of children 12 and under," Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said in a statement. "Using sophisticated methods to evade detection by law enforcement, Dreamboard members allegedly used the power and anonymity of the Internet to motivate each other to commit their horrific acts of sexual abuse of minors and trading in child pornography.

"The charges unsealed today show the department's continued commitment to a strategy of targeting the most sophisticated child exploitation networks, at home and abroad," Breuer added. "No matter how savvy online predators think they are, we will find them, dismantle their networks, and bring them to justice."

The arrests are the latest victory for the world's law enforcement agencies as they try to battle with individuals sharing and promoting pedophilia on the Web. In 2006, U.S. officials arrested 125 people on charges of child pornography. Just a couple years later, the FBI made waves by using fake links purporting to direct users to videos of children having sex. After users clicked on those links, the FBI raided their homes in violation of a law related to the "sexual exploitation of minors."

Dreamboard had several rules to protect members from law enforcement authorities, the Justice Department said today. The group required all members to use screen names, and when links to child pornography were shared, they needed to be encrypted and password-protected. In addition, members could only share images with other members, and could only connect to Dreamboard through proxy servers.

"Membership was tightly controlled by the administrators of the bulletin board, who required prospective members to upload child pornography portraying children 12 years of age or younger when applying for membership," the Justice Department said. "Once they were given access, members were required continually to upload images of child sexual abuse in order to maintain membership. Members who failed to follow this rule would be expelled from the group."

Not everyone on Dreamboard was afforded the same rights, the Justice Department said. A ranking system was in place, allowing people in the highest membership level, "Super VIP," to access far more depictions of child pornography than those in the "VIP" or "member" ranks. According to the Justice Department, users improved their ranks by "providing child abuse images that the individual had produced, providing a large number of images, or providing images that had never been seen before."

All 72 of the defendants have been charged with "conspiring to advertise and distribute child pornography." Fifty of those people have also been charged with "engaging in a child pornography enterprise." Twenty defendants still remain at-large. According to the Justice Department, they are known only by their online identities.

"This operation marks another important step forward in our work to protect children across--and beyond--this country," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. "Our nation's fight to protect the rights, interests, and safety of children goes on, and it will continue to be a top priority of this Justice Department."

 

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