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72 charged in online child pornography ring

Fifty-two have been arrested in the U.S. and abroad and 13 have pleaded guilty in the case, the result of a crackdown by the Justice and Homeland Security departments. Twenty remain at large.

August 03, 2011|By Andrew Seidman, Washington Bureau
  • Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., left, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton at a Washington news conference, where they discussed details of the investigation into an online child pornography ring.
Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., left, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement… (Mark Wilson, Getty Images )

Reporting from Washington — The Justice Department has charged 72 suspected members of an online child pornography ring that encouraged its members to engage in sexual acts with children 12 and under and submit gruesome, violent material to build a massive private database of images and videos on the Internet.

The crackdown is the result of a joint effort by the departments of Justice and Homeland Security launched in December 2009 to target about 500 people in 13 countries on five continents for their suspected participation in "Dreamboard," a members-only online bulletin board that was created to encourage the sharing of graphic images and videos.

"The members of this criminal network shared a demented dream to create the preeminent online community for the promotion of child sexual exploitation," Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement, "but for the children they victimized, this was nothing short of a nightmare."

According to court documents filed in Louisiana, where the ring originated, administrators for Dreamboard set up strict barriers to entry and created a sophisticated membership system that offered incentives for further contributions to the website. Individuals had to post child pornography in order to join the site. To maintain membership, individuals were required to continue to upload images of sexual abuse.

Members were divided into four groups. The highest level was composed of the site's producers of child pornography. The members of the next level were considered trusted members of the site. Other members had restricted access.

Members could gain broader access to the private library of child pornography by submitting more images, posting images the member had produced, and posting images that no other member possessed.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said that the bulletin board distributed the equivalent of 16,000 DVDs of child pornography, adding that the department had recovered more than 1 million images in the U.S. alone.

The bulletin board, which has since been shut down, enforced strict rules that were printed in English, Russian, Japanese and Spanish. In one section on the site, titled "Super Hardcore," members could only post videos of children who were in distress or were "crying," according to court documents.

Fifty-two of the 72 people charged have been arrested in the U.S. and abroad, and 13 have pleaded guilty and face 20 to 30 years in prison. Twenty remain at large and are known only by their online screen names.

Efforts to identify the victims of sexual predation, some of them infants, are ongoing, according to the Justice Department.

"The dismantling of Dreamboard is another stark warning to would-be child predators who think they can trade in child pornography and commit heinous acts against innocent children while hiding behind pseudonyms and other technological tricks," John Morton, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement director, said in a statement.

andrew.seidman@latimes.com

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