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Feds bust “nightmare” child porn ring

The Justice Department has shut down an online bulletin board called Dreamboard where members traded graphic images and videos of adults molesting children under 12 years old.

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The U.S. government has charged 72 people worldwide with participating in an international child pornography ring. It’s the largest prosecution ever of an online child porn operation, NBC News reports.

The bust has shut down a private Internet bulletin board called Dreamboard where members “traded graphic images and videos of adults molesting children 12 years old and under, often violently, and collectively created a massive private library of images of child sexual abuse,” according to a Justice Department news release.

In a press conference today, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano described how the Justice Department’s 20-month investigation, dubbed Operation Delego, tracked Dreamboard members to as far away as the Philippines, Kenya and Serbia.

Members accessed the board via proxy servers that routed Internet traffic through other computers so as to disguise a user's actual location, authorities said. The computers hosting Dreamboard were based in the United States, but the site’s top administrators lived in France and Canada, federal agents said, according to NBC News.

Fifty-two people of the people who’ve been charged have been arrested in the United States and 9 other countries; 20 people remain at large, the Associated Press Reports.

Federal investigators said this pornography ring was particularly harmful because each member’s access to images grew based on the number of photos and videos they posted. Lanny Breuer, head of the Justice Department's criminal division, explained that members were required to upload new material at least every 50 days to maintain their access. "This was an extremely dangerous criminal enterprise. Dreamboard was a living horror," he said at the news conference.

"Some of the children featured in these images and videos were just infants," Holder said. "And, in many cases, the children being victimized were in obvious, and intentional, pain – even 'in distress and crying,' just as the rules for one area of the bulletin board mandated."

The Va.-based Roanoke Times reported that a Virginia resident had confessed to being involved in the ring. Joseph "Matt" Wheeler, 31, who’d been arrested on child pornography charges on July 15, testified in a hearing last month that he’d posted 78 images to Dreamboard over the past two years. Wheeler had recently been hired as the new head football coach of Parry McCluer High School in Buena Vista.

"The members of this criminal network shared a demented dream to create the preeminent online community for the promotion of child sexual exploitation,” Holder said at today’s press conference, “but for the children they victimized, this was nothing short of a nightmare.