- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Attorney General John Ashcroft yesterday said 86 persons have been charged in a 14-month undercover investigation that targeted a computer-based pornography ring that "exploited and abused" children.
Mr. Ashcroft said the FBI undercover probe, "Operation Candyman," involved all the bureau's 56 field offices, and that of the 40 suspects already in custody, 27 admitted to molesting 36 children.
"Unfortunately, some in this country have used the Internet to exploit America's young people by creating e-mail groups to promote and trade pictures of children being sexually exploited and abused," he said during a press conference at FBI headquarters.
"It is clear a new marketplace for child pornography has emerged in the dark corners of cyberspace," he said. "Operation Candyman is working to protect America's youth from those who would exploit the trust of children and parents."
FBI Executive Assistant Director Bruce Gebhardt said the 14-month undercover probe, begun by FBI agents in Houston, sought to expose "an international ring of pedophiles and predators devoted to trading and propagating pornographic images of children over the Internet."
Mr. Gebhardt said 40 persons in 20 states were in custody, with an additional 46 arrests expected by the end of the week. He said those arrested included members of the clergy, law-enforcement officers, a nurse, a teacher's aide, a school bus driver and "others entrusted with protecting, nurturing and educating the American youth."
Two of the clergy members, he said, were Catholic priests, including one in Baltimore.
Mr. Gebhardt said the investigation got its name from the Internet electronic group it targeted. The Candyman e-group, he said, had a single purpose: "to exploit and degrade children."
He said the investigation uncovered an estimated 7,000 members who were using e-mail and the Candyman Web site through Yahoo Inc. to post, download and share pornographic images of children. He said other e-groups discovered by agents also had been targeted and that additional indictments and arrests are expected in the coming months.
"As Operation Candyman demonstrates, the FBI is committed to protecting America's children from pedophiles and pornographers," Mr. Gebhardt said.
Mr. Ashcroft said the Candyman investigation was part of the FBI's "Innocent Images" national initiative to investigate child pornography and those who travel to commit sexual offenses against children.
"Indeed, the protection of our nation's children is a responsibility we all share, and the coordination and cooperation demonstrated by Operation Candyman is essential to the success of this important operation," he said. "There will be no free rides on the Internet for traffickers of child pornography."
FBI officials said that one of those charged in the case, a respiration therapist in Little Rock, Ark., has committed suicide.
Yesterday, the Family Research Council commended the Justice Department for apprehending the sexual predators of children operating through the Candyman site.
"There are 86 fewer predators and child pornographers operating online today, thanks to these dedicated officers," said Jan LaRue, senior director of legal studies. "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."

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