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January
16 Friday
2004

Child porn ring

US officials yesterday announced they had cracked an international child pornography ring with arrests in France, Spain, Belarus and the US.

The cases stem from an internet processor of web site subscriptions in Minsk, Belarus, which collected fees for memberships to child pornography web sites that brought in millions of dollars, the US Attorney's office said.

An executive with a Florida company has pleaded guilty in the case.

"When we followed the money, we ended up getting both the operators of this outfit ... and meanwhile back here at home we were doing search warrants on people's computers who had subscribed via credit card to these child pornographic web sites," said Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for the US Attorney's Office.

About two dozen people in New Jersey and 20 others around the US have been charged with downloading child pornography, including a doctor, a minister and a teacher, the office said.

The Belarus company, Regpay Co Ltd, and Connections USA, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, were indicted in a money-laundering scheme involving paid memberships to about 50 pornography web sites.

Four of Regpay's leaders were indicted, and three were arrested over the summer in France and Spain.

US authorities are seeking to have them transferred the United States for prosecution.

Regpay was formerly known as Trustbill, while Connections did business as Iserve.

Regpay allegedly operated at least four child pornography sites from Minsk, and it carried advertising for other pornographic Web sites. One Regpay site referred to itself as "underground pedo world", the indictment said.

"The indictment strikes at the heart of the commercial trade of child pornography by attacking the commercial profits derived from such a deplorable venture," Attorney General John Ashcroft said.

He said the ring was dismantled through efforts of law enforcement in Belarus, France and Spain, as well as agents from the Internal Revenue Service, Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the US Postal Inspection Service and the FBI.

"Regpay Co Inc allegedly processed nearly $US3 million ($A3.88 million) in subscription fees by persons seeking pornography - much of it being child pornography," Ashcroft said.

The investigation is part of Operation Falcon, aimed at severing commercial support of child pornography. As of Tuesday, $US800,000 ($A1.04 million) in sales proceeds had been seized and 160 cases initiated, the Justice Department said.

Connections CEO Eugene Valentine, 38, from Florida, pleaded guilty yesterday in federal court in Newark to a conspiracy to launder money for Regpay and its principals.