Child Porn Ring Put Kids in 'Obvious ... Intentional Pain'; 72 Charged

VIDEO: International network was engaged in the sexual abuse of children.PlayABCNEWS.com
WATCH 72 Charged in Online Child Porn Ring

The Justice Department today announced the largest-ever U.S. prosecution for child pornography -- busting a ring that allegedly rewarded members able to record the most brutal sexual abuse of children, the younger the better.

Seventy-two people have been charged over alleged participation in the worldwide criminal network.

Attorney General Eric Holder said some of those exploited were very, very young.

"Some of the children featured in these images and videos were just infants," he said. "And, in many cases, the children being victimized were in obvious and also intentional pain, even in distress and crying."

The investigation, called Operation Delego, began in December 2009. It targeted members of a private online website known as "Dreamboard." In order to be eligible for membership, participants had to supply child porn.

Dreamboard had several levels of membership, much like airline frequent flyer programs. A member would be upgraded for supplying pictures of himself sexually exploiting children under 12. And the highest level of membership could be achieved by offering pictures and videos of children being violently exploited.

The higher the membership level the more access a member received.

"For the children they victimized, this was nothing short of a nightmare," Holder said.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said the child porn network was extensive.

"The board may have been the vehicle for the distribution of up to 123 terabytes of child pornography, which is roughly equivalent to nearly 16,000 DVD's," she said.

Of the 72 people charged, 52 have been arrested -- 43 of them in the United States and nine abroad. Thirteen have already pleaded guilty.

One suspect is 31-year-old former high school football coach Joseph "Matt" Wheeler, from Buena Vista, Va. He is being held without bond in the Roanoke County Jail, awaiting to transfer to Lafayette, La., where the case is being prosecuted.

With the investigation continuing, Holder had a warning for those still engaged in child pornography.

"We will find you, we will stop you, and we will bring you to justice," he said.

Operation Delego: 72 Charged in Child Porn Ring

Operation Delego involved extensive international cooperation to identify and apprehend Dreamboard members abroad. Through coordination between ICE; the Department of Justice; Eurojust, the European Union's Judicial Cooperation Unit; and dozens of law enforcement agencies throughout the world, 19 Dreamboard members across five continents and 13 countries have been arrested outside the United States, including two of the five lead administrators of the board. Those countries include Canada, Denmark, Ecuador, France, Germany, Hungary, Kenya, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Qatar, Serbia, Sweden and Switzerland.

Numerous foreign investigations related to Operation Delego remain ongoing. The location and arrest of Dreamboard members abroad have led to the capture and investigation of other global targets.

The bulletin board included rules of conduct, printed in English, Russian, Japanese and Spanish.

The rules required prospective members to upload material depicting children under the age of 12 engaged in sexually explicit activity.

Approved members were required to observe strict posting rules designed to encourage members to disseminate large quantities of child pornography, thwart efforts by law enforcement to identify members of the board, and encourage members to sexually abuse children in order to produce new material for the board.

The board rules also required members to organize postings based on the type of content.

One particular category was entitled "Super Hardcore." The rules for that category described in graphic language that the only posts permitted were those involving adults having violent sexual intercourse with "very young kids" who were being subjected to both physical and sexual abuse and were obviously "in distress, and or crying."