Some of the children featured in the images and videos were just infants. Others, all of them 12 or younger, were crying, the victims of intentional and obvious pain. It was just what the online members of “Dreamboard” wanted, in fact required as part of the initiation fee.
There was a reward for those who molested children and shared those images with board administrators — an online upgrade to the highest level of membership, “Super VIP.”
Despite sophisticated efforts to conceal their criminal activity from law enforcement, the use of aliases or “screen names,” encrypted links and programs, and access to the online board only via proxy servers, three indictments and a criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday charged 72 people in an international criminal network.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said a two-year federal investigation called Operation Delego targeted more than 500 people worldwide in a conspiracy known as Dreamboard — a members-only online bulletin board created and operated to promote pedophilia and encourage the sexual abuse of children.
During that two-year period, 52 of the 72 people charged have been arrested in five continents and 15 countries, including the U.S.
Mr. Holder said club members traded graphic images and videos of adults molesting children 12 and younger, often violently, and collectively created a massive private library of child sexual abuse. They said the group prized and encouraged the creation of new images and videos of child sexual abuse, with numerous Dreamboard members sexually abusing children, producing images and videos of the abuse, and sharing them with other members.
Operation Delego represents the largest prosecution to date in the U.S. of people who participated in an online bulletin board conceived and operated for the sole purpose of promoting child sexual abuse, disseminating child pornography and evading law enforcement.
“Dreamboard’s creators and members lived all over the world — but they allegedly were united by a disturbing belief that the sexual abuse of children is proper conduct that should not be criminalized; and some even referred to their own creation, dissemination and collection of child pornography as a ‘hobby,’” Mr. Holder said.
“To put it simply, we have charged that these individuals shared a dream — to create the pre-eminent online community for the promotion of child sexual exploitation,” he said. “But for the children they victimized, this was nothing short of a nightmare.”
Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, who heads the Justice Department’s criminal division, characterized Dreamboard as a “self-described global ‘community’ of pedophiles dedicated to the relentless victimization and exploitation of children 12 and under.
“Using sophisticated methods to evade detection by law enforcement, Dreamboard members allegedly used the power and anonymity of the Internet to motivate each other to commit their horrific acts of sexual abuse of minors and trading in child pornography,” he said. “No matter how savvy online predators think they are, we will find them, dismantle their networks, and bring them to justice.”
According to court documents, Dreamboard members used a variety of measures to conceal their criminal activity from law enforcement, including the use of aliases or “screen names,” encrypted links, and access via proxy servers that routed Internet traffic through other computers to disguise a user’s location.
Dreamboard members encouraged the use of encryption programs on their computers to prevent law enforcement from accessing them in the event of a court-authorized search.
Membership was tightly controlled by the bulletin board administrators, who, in order to prevent law enforcement or outsiders from gaining access, required prospective members to upload material depicting children 12 and younger engaged in sexually explicit activity, the records show.
Once they were given access, members were required continually to upload images of child sexual abuse in order to maintain membership. Members who failed to do so would be expelled.
According to court documents, Dreamboard members were divided into groups based on status and ranking. The highest level of membership was “Super VIP,” those who molested children and shared those images with board administrators.
The board included rules of conduct printed in English, Russian, Japanese and Spanish.
All 72 of the defendants were charged with conspiring to advertise and distribute child pornography; 50 of them also are charged with engaging in a child pornography enterprise.
Thirteen of the 52 arrested have pleaded guilty and have received sentences ranging up to 30 years in prison.