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

VIDEO: International network was engaged in the sexual abuse of children.
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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.

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