WASHINGTON, D.C. (WUSA9)--The Department of Homeland Security today announced the bust of one of the largest child exploitation rings in history. Fourteen men who operated a child pornography website are under arrest and are in federal custody.
A key investigator called the number of victims "astronomical" and "unprecedented": 251 children in 39 states and five foreign countries. All but eight of the victims were teenage boys.
Investigators say 27-year-old Jonathan Johnson ran a secret, subscribers-only website out of the Louisiana home he shared with his parents. The site had 27,000 members. Posing as teenage girls, the operators convinced unsuspecting teen boys to provide pornographic content.
"Getting these young children to take egregious pictures, exploitive pictures from their home and send those images and videos to the predators," said Patrick Redling, of ICE's Child Exploitation Unit.
Not only is the number of victims unusual, the quantity of pornographic photos and video is astonishing.
"It was 40 terabytes. It was about five times the size of all the information stored by the Library of Congress," said Dan Ragsdale, the Deputy Director of ICE.
Most of the victims were between the ages of 13 and 15. But two were under the age of three. The investigation is ongoing.
"My message to them is law enforcement is gonna get you. One of these days you're going to mess up, and we're gonna locate you and we're gonna arrest you," said Redling.
Johnson has been in federal custody since his arrest last June. If convicted, he faces 20 years to life in prison.
Several agencies worked together to dismantle this child exploitation network, including Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the US Postal Inspection Service and the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Written by Andrea McCarren, WUSA9