|[an error occurred while processing this directive]||
Ashcroft announces arrests in computer pornography sting
By Ted Bridis, Associated Press, 03/18/02
WASHINGTON -- The FBI said Monday it had shut down an Internet-based child-pornography ring with criminal charges against 86 people in 26 states. Those sought or already arrested included two Catholic priests, six other clergy members, a school bus driver and at least one police officer.
The FBI said it expected to arrest at least 50 others by week's end in the sweep, called "Operation Candyman." The effort targeted members of three Internet discussion groups on Yahoo! Inc.'s Web site, including one called "Candyman."
"I'd like to see one sweep a day," said Bruce J. Gebhardt, FBI executive assistant director for criminal investigations and cyber-crime. "We want to keep the pressure up on all these people."
All three Internet groups have been shut down. Investigators declined to identify the other two groups by name, saying it might interfere with efforts to trace suspects through their e-mail addresses. They said 7,000 people worldwide registered e-mail addresses with the Candyman group, and authorities were able to trace 1,400 people in the United States through those addresses.
"A new marketplace for child pornography has opened in the dark corners of cyberspace," Attorney General John Ashcroft said. "There will be no free rides on the Internet for those who traffic in child pornography."
Gebhardt said Yahoo executives cooperated with FBI requests for information about the subscribers to the discussions groups. But Gebhardt declined to say whether he believed Yahoo should have monitored its discussion groups to prevent ones from operating as open exchanges for child pornography.
Organizers of the Candyman group described it online as "for people who love kids. You can post any type of messages you like, too, or any type of pics and vids you like, too. P.S. If we all work together we will have the best group on the Net."
Mike Heimbach, head of the FBI's child crime unit, described the images exchanged on the Candyman group as "very explicit" and "hard-core."
FBI officials in Washington declined to identify by name any of those arrested or charged, except to list the occupations of some they described as "significant perpetrators" because they held jobs where they might spend time with children.
FBI officials in Washington said those people included a Catholic priest in the St. Louis area; a school bus driver in Albany, N.Y.; a preschool teacher's aide in Las Vegas; a child photographer and an unspecified clergy member in Philadelphia; and a police officer in West Virginia under investigation by FBI agents in Pittsburgh.
In Las Vegas, authorities said Beckham Baker, 23, was indicted Feb. 6 on one charge of receiving child pornography and one charge of possession of child pornography. Baker, who worked in a southern Nevada day care center, is free pending his next court appearance. FBI Special Agent Gayle Jacobs said authorities moved quickly to arrest Baker because of his job. "Obviously, he needed to be removed from working with children," Jacobs said.
Reached by telephone Monday at his Las Vegas apartment, Baker said he was seeking to hire a lawyer and declined to comment further.
The school bus driver in New York was identified as Shannon Timothy Macauley, 36, of Constable, N.Y., near the Canadian border. Macauley was charged by state police in November and December with sodomizing five boys. Another arrest in New York was John J. Schmidt Jr., 51, of Dolgeville, N.Y., an elementary school teacher, charged in November with receiving child pornography on his home computer from Internet sites.
Schmidt pleaded innocent. His attorney, Frank Policelli, said he couldn't comment on evidence he still hasn't seen yet or whether the search warrant was valid.
"The government always comes forth before anybody can see what kind of case they have," Policelli said. "You can't form an opinion just because the government made charges. They can charge anybody."
Authorities in a few of the communities the FBI listed indicated Monday that no one arrested or charged in the busts fit these descriptions, and an FBI official, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged later Monday that some of those people identified by their occupation had not yet been arrested.
In St. Louis, archdiocese officials disclosed earlier this month that a computer belonging to a suburban priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Florissant, the Rev. John Hess, had been seized as part of a child pornography investigation. But authorities could not say late Monday whether that search was related to Monday's announcement in Washington. Hess has been removed from the parish.
FBI spokesman Pete Gulotta in Baltimore confirmed that among those also charged was the Rev. Thomas A. Rydzewski, an associate pastor at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore. His arrest on Dec. 13 had been previously announced there by authorities, but there was no indication of a larger investigation until Monday's announcement.
Rydzewski, who was charged with possession of child pornography, told the FBI that he "has long had a curiosity" about child pornography and that he sometimes connected to Internet newsgroups that promote it, according to court documents in the case.
© Copyright 2002 Boston Globe Electronic Publishing Inc.