Major Child Porn Ring Busted,
20 Children Rescued Worldwide

Special Agent Arnold Bell, who heads the FBI’s Innocent Images National Initiative.

FBI Photo

(FBI) “Mala is to die for in those pigtails,” read one message. “I have a few 5yo [year old] Taras that you do not have,” read another. “Just dropping in for a hot minute … to help out the dry spell, and to give everyone something to do for an afternoon,” said still one more.

They’re hard comments to read—when you know that they were posted in a massive secret child pornography newsgroup on the web.

That sordid network was exposed this week, thanks to a global law enforcement operation spanning five countries, three continents, and 11 U.S. states. As part of the continuing investigation, a total of 22 men have been arrested, including 14 in America, four in Germany, and two each in Australia and the U.K.

Even more satisfying: over the course of the months-long multinational operation, more than 20 victims have been rescued, mostly in Europe where the pornographic materials were being produced. Investigative efforts to identify more victims—which have included toddlers, teens, and others who experienced horrific sexual abuse—are ongoing.

The international investigation was groundbreaking in three main ways:

1) It dismantled one of the largest (more than 400,000 images and videos were posted, traded, and trafficked) and most sophisticated child exploitation rings we’ve ever come across. For example, the group used powerful encryption tools to keep the operation secret and a multi-layered system to vet new members. “These people went to a lot of trouble to keep from being discovered,” said Steve Tidwell, the FBI Executive Assistant Director who oversees our national criminal programs. “They had a level of operational security that we’ve not seen before.”

2) It marked the first use in the United States of the “child exploitation enterprise” provisions of the Adam Walsh Act of 2006. The ring, in fact, was run very much like a business, with various players handling different roles, direction coming from the top down, and the sadistic images serving as currency. Again, a sophisticated operation.

3) It involved extensive real-time and high-level global cooperation, with countries sharing not only information and intelligence but actual investigators. The operation began in January 2006 when an officer of the Queensland Police Services in Australia learned about the group. Since a number of the members were living in the U.S., Queensland authorities came to the FBI that June; we launched our investigation two months later, working through our Innocent Images National Initiative. The officer who infiltrated the ring came to U.S. and worked with us directly through our International Innocent Images Task Force in our command center in suburban Maryland. We sent agents to Australia as well. Also participating in the investigation were the BKA Child Pornography Unit in Germany, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre in the United Kingdom, and the Toronto Police Department in Canada.

“We have nothing but gratitude for the FBI and its Innocent Images program,” said Chief Superintendent Ross Barnett of the Queensland Police Services. “This operation wouldn’t have been a success without the investigative expertise and support the Bureau brought to the table.”

And we, in turn, thank Chief Superintendent Barnett and our other global partners for a truly seamless operation that helped take down, in the words of one of the defendants, “the greatest group of pedos to ever gather in one place.”

Members of Vast Child Exploitation Enterprise Indicted

(FBI) A federal grand jury in Pensacola, Florida. has returned a 35-count indictment against 12 individuals who engaged in a criminal enterprise involving the advertisement, transportation, and shipment of child pornography over a two-year period, Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida Gregory R. Miller, and FBI Executive Assistant Director J. Stephen Tidwell announced today.

According to the indictment, the 12 men participated since August 2006 in a highly-sophisticated and well-organized scheme to proliferate child sex abuse images to the organization’s membership. Until the group was dismantled by law enforcement, members of the group utilized Internet newsgroups – or large file-sharing networks where text, software, pictures and videos can be traded and shared – to traffic in illegal images and videos depicting prepubescent children, including toddlers, engaged in various sexual and sadistic acts. The group utilized sophisticated encryption methods to avoid detection and traded over 400,000 images and videos of child sexual abuse before being dismantled. The charges were developed after law enforcement infiltrated the group.

The indictment charges the 12 defendants with numerous federal crimes, including engaging in a child exploitation enterprise, conspiracy, advertisement of child pornography, transportation of child pornography, receipt of child pornography, and obstruction of justice. Charged in the indictment are:

  • Michael Berger , 33, of Mechanicsville , Va. ;
  • James Freeman, 47, of Santa Rosa Beach , Fla. ;
  • Ruble Keys, 55, of Medford , Ore. ;
  • Gary Lakey, 54, of Anderson , Ind. ;
  • Marvin Lambert, 33, of Indianapolis , Ind. ;
  • Neville McGarity , 40, of Medina , Texas ;
  • John Mosman, 46, of Waterbury , Conn. ;
  • Warren Mumpower, 63, of Spokane , Wash.;
  • Raymond Roy, 54, of San Juan Capistrano , Calif. ;
  • Erik Wayerski , 46, of Round Rock, Texas ;
  • Warren Weber, 56, of Boise , Idaho ; and
  • Ronald White, 59, of Burlington , N.C.

If convicted of these offenses, each defendant faces a prison sentence of at least 20 years, up to a maximum of life imprisonment, in addition to applicable statutory fines.

Two additional defendants associated with this case were arrested on criminal complaints on February 29, 2008 . They are Stepan Bondarenko, 38, of Philadelphia , Pa. and Daniel Castleman, 43, of Lubbock , Texas .

The case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative designed to protect children from online exploitation and abuse. Led by the U.S. Attorney’s Offices, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit http://www.projectsafechildhood.gov/.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney David Goldberg of the Northern District of Florida and Trial Attorney LisaMarie Freitas of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division. The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Queensland , Australia Police Service, with the assistance of the Bundeskriminalamt (BKA) Child Pornography Unit in Germany , the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre in the United Kingdom , and the Toronto , Canada Police Department.