Crackdown on online child porn begins; nearly 90 are charged

WASHINGTON (BP)--Nearly 90 people -- including clergy, law-enforcement personnel and school employees -- have been charged in a crackdown on an Internet child pornography ring, the U.S. Department of Justice announced March 18.

In announcing the break-up of the child porn ring, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said 89 persons in more than 20 states had been charged. In addition, 27 of those who have been arrested have admitted to molesting more than 36 children, according to the FBI. Many additional arrests are expected this week and in the months ahead.

Among those charged have been a clergy member in Baltimore; a school bus driver and a foster parent in Albany, N.Y.; a preschool teacher's aide in Las Vegas; a member of the clergy, a guidance counselor and a children's photographer in Philadelphia; law-enforcement personnel in Pittsburgh and San Diego, and a therapist in Little Rock, Ark., who committed suicide later.

Operation Candyman, the FBI initiative that was named after the Internet electronic groups it investigated, began 14 months ago after the bureau's office in Houston identified three Egroups maintained by Yahoo that were producing, exchanging and distributing child pornography. There were more than 7,000 members of the Candyman Egroups, with about 2,400 of those outside the United States, according to the FBI.

The FBI said it has begun investigations into other Egroups involved in child pornography.

"Operation Candyman demonstrates our commitment to protecting our nation's children from sexual predators," Attorney General John Ashcroft said in a written release. "This extensive operation should serve as a warning to others that we will find and prosecute those who target and endanger our children."

FBI Director Robert Mueller said in a written release the bureau would "diligently shut down any and all websites, Egroups, bulletin boards and any other mediums that will foster the continued exploitation of our children."

The Family Research Council applauded the crackdown and called for more.

"The prosecution of Candyman and other child sexual exploitation groups operating online should include the Internet service providers that knowingly host them and blatantly advertise them, such as Yahoo has been doing," said Jan LaRue, FRC's senior director of legal studies, in a written statement. "These child pornography groups don't have to hide in the dark recesses of cyberspace when ISPs give them a venue.

"We continue to urge the [Department of Justice] to make prosecution of obscenity online a major focus," LaRue said. "There's little doubt that most of the 27 Candyman arrestees who have confessed to molesting 36 kids did so by seducing the kids with adult obscenity."

In recent years, pro-family organizations and some members of Congress have called for a return to prosecuting obscenity and not just child porn. The failure to pursue obscenity charges began under Janet Reno, attorney general during all eight years of the Clinton presidency.

Each of the 56 FBI field offices has had at least one person to investigate so far in Operation Candyland. Some have had as many as 45 subjects for investigation. In addition, nearly all of the U.S. attorney's offices, as well as DOJ's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, have participated in the initiative.


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