Two Kentucky men are among 72 people accused of participating in a massive international child pornography network that prosecutors say used an online bulletin board called Dreamboard to trade tens of thousands of images and videos of sexually abused children.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Wednesday unveiled the 20-month investigation, called Operation Delego, that targeted more than 600 Dreamboard members around the world who are accused of participating in the private, members-only Internet club created to promote pedophilia.
One of the Kentucky men, Anthony Paul Sowders of Middlesboro, pleaded guilty in July but has not been sentenced.
Sowders, 28, admitted he used a Webcam to produce images of underage girls involved in sex and posted them to the bulletin board. He posted 70 times, according to a court record.
The other Kentucky man, Timothy Lee Gentry, 33, of Burlington, pleaded guilty and was sentenced in May to 25 years in prison.
Numerous participants in the network sexually abused children 12 and younger, produced images and video of the abuse, and then shared it with other club members, according to court papers released in the case.
At a news conference at the Justice Department, the attorney general called the criminal activity a "nightmare" for the children and said some of the children featured in the images and videos were infants.
In many cases, the children being victimized were in obvious, and intentional, pain — even in distress and crying, which the rules for one area of the bulletin board required, the attorney general said.
Fifteen arrested Dreamboard participants — including Sowders — created child pornography, according to the Justice Department.
Napolitano said the amount of child porn swapped by participants in the network was equivalent to 16,000 DVDs. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, who heads the Justice Department's criminal division, called the criminal enterprise "a living horror."
Of the 72 charged in the United States, 43 have been arrested in this country and nine abroad. An additional 20 are known to authorities only by their Internet names and remain at large.
Police arrested people in phases, which is why some have pleaded guilty already.
Authorities have arrested people in 13 other countries — Canada, Denmark, Ecuador, France, Germany, Hungary, Kenya, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Qatar, Serbia, Sweden and Switzerland — but some of those were arrested on local rather than the U.S. charges.
The U.S. indictments were unsealed in Shreveport, La.
To conceal their conduct, members used screen names rather than actual names and accessed the bulletin board via proxy servers, with Internet traffic routed through other computers to disguise a user's location, according to the court papers.
Participants were required to continually upload images of child sexual abuse to maintain their membership.
Participants who molested children and created new images of child pornography were placed in a "Super VIP" category that gave them access to the entire quantity of child porn on the bulletin board, the court papers stated.
A "Super Hardcore" section of the bulletin board was limited to posts showing adults having violent sexual intercourse with "very young kids" subjected to physical and sexual abuse.
All 72 U.S. defendants are charged with conspiring to advertise and distribute child pornography, and 50 of them also are charged with engaging in a child pornography enterprise. Thirteen of the 52 defendants who have been arrested have pleaded guilty in the conspiracy. Of the four who have been sentenced, the least amount of prison time was 20 years behind bars, and the most was 30 years.