At the Child Predator Section of the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office, a laptop screen with a national map shows the number of active IP addresses that are downloading child porn during a demonstration for USA TODAY of the software that law enforcement officials are using to break child pornography distribution rings and start the tracking of child victims. / Eileen Blass, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - A Louisiana man and 13 other associates have been charged in federal court with overseeing one of the largest child pornography Internet trading operations known to law enforcement authorities.
Jonathan Johnson, 27, of Abita Springs, La., the primary administrator, allegedly ran password-protected websites involving more than 27,000 members located in 39 states and five countries, according to recently unsealed court documents.
Federal investigators allege that the sites contained 2,000 sexually explicit videos of young boys engaging in sexually explicit conduct during a year ending in June 2013. From those videos and other materials, investigators located and identified 251 child victims, ranging in age from 3 to 17.
In addition to the 228 victims found in the U.S., the remainder were located in the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Belgium.
"Never before in the history of this agency have we identified and located this many minor victims in the course of a single child exploitation investigation,'' Immigration and Customs Enforcement Deputy Director Daniel Ragsdale said Tuesday. "Our agency is seeing a growing trend where children are being enticed, tricked and coerced online by adults to produce sexually explicit material of themselves.''
According to court documents, the sites included "tutorials that provided guidance to members and uploaders on ways to communicate with minor boys in order to coerce them into creating sexually explicit videos â?¦ and instructions so members could avoid detection from law enforcement.''
"Johnson and other website members and uploaders created fictitious female Internet personas in order to initiate online communications with young boys,'' the documents state.
Those members and users, according to documents, "coerced hundreds of minor boys to record themselves engaging in sexually explicit conduct.'' Unknown to the child victims, the videos were allegedly transmitted to Johnson's sites, allowing members to view and download the videos.
Federal authorities said Johnson, who faces a maximum punishment of life in prison if convicted, has allegedly admitted to creating female profiles on social networks to target children.
Johnson's attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The 13 other alleged conspirators in the far-flung, enterprise represented at least 10 states.
"These indictments represent a strong coordinated strike ... against child pornography and those who allegedly seek to harm our most vulnerable citizens, our young children,'' New Orleans U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite Jr. said.
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