An international child pornography ring that spanned three continents and required members to post explicit images on a secure Internet message board has been dismantled with the arrests of more than a dozen people, authorities said Tuesday.
The investigation led to the closure of the so-called "Lost Boy" bulletin board in January 2009 and identified suspects from Germany to New Zealand. Investigators said the network of 35 men traded and posted pictures of young boys either naked or engaging in unlawful sex.
"Lost Boy" members came from varying backgrounds. One was a pediatrician, another was a lawyer, and several were registered sex offenders.
"It's not just child pornography; these lewd images are crime scene photos," said B. Bernard Ferguson, inspector in charge of the U.S. Post Inspection Service in Los Angeles. "No other crime is more repugnant, no victim more innocent."
To join the restricted message board, each member had to continually submit child pornography to remain in good standing. The site also stored a private library of child pornography for members to access.
The investigation by federal, state and local officials began in late 2008 when U.S. authorities received a tip from Eurojust, a judicial cooperation arm of the European Union. A Los Angeles man had been talking to an Italian national about child pornography and how to engage in child sex tourism in Romania, authorities said.
Search warrants were served in the U.S., where 16 people were arrested and charged with child pornography. Five men have pleaded guilty and face between five and 30 years in federal prison. Some suspects have been charged in France and Brazil, while others have been convicted in Norway and the United Kingdom.
Authorities said they waited until now to release details about the ring because they have tracked down as many of the network members as they could find. Nineteen others remain at large across the world.
David Fagerness, 44, a former resident of Florida was expelled from the Czech Republic to face charges in the United States. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport child pornography on Monday and faces a mandatory 15-year prison term when he is sentenced in June.
Another defendant was returned to the U.S. from Honduras, where he was working for the Peace Corps, authorities said.
Andrew Scott, 30, of Flint, Mich., pleaded guilty earlier this month to two counts of producing child pornography and participating in a child exploitation enterprise.
Scott admitted being part of the network as well as molesting two boys and photographing the abuse that he shared with message board members, said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. Scott faces 25 to 30 years in prison.
Those who pleaded guilty said "this network was reserved for your most serious traders of child pornography and those who were dedicated 'boy lovers,' men who have a sexual interest in young boys," Birotte said.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the bulletin board, according to investigators, was a forum called the "Handbook Project," where members contributed and read about how to find and groom boys for sex. It also gave suggestions on how to move on to other boys when a current victim became too old to be attractive.
Investigators are unsure if there are other Internet sites that operate like the "Lost Boy" network, but they vowed to keep up the pressure.
"We are committed to pursuing these perpetrators wherever they are through international investigations and prosecutions like the one we are highlighting today," U.S. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.