Sign in to comment!

Menu
Home

Ten Americans Charged in International Child Porn Ring

A group of Americans took sexually explicit photographs of their own children, including at least one 2-year-old, and sent them over the Internet as part of an international child porn ring called "The Club," U.S. Customs officials said Friday.

"I've rarely seen crimes as despicable and repugnant," Customs Commissioner Robert C. Bonner said as he announced the arrests of 20 people in the U.S. and abroad.

Forty-five children, including 37 in the United States, were victims of the porn ring and have been removed from the care of those indicted, Customs officials said.

The American victims ranged from age 2 to 14, and 80 percent of them were allegedly molested by one of their own parents. Most of them are now in the custody of another parent or relative.

Bonner said he had never before seen a broad conspiracy among parents. "If this isn't unusual, God help us," he said.

All of the suspects are men except one Danish woman, Bente Jensen, who is charged with her husband, Eggert Jensen.

Among the U.S. citizens charged since January are chiropractor Lloyd Alan Emmerson of Clovis, Calif., who has pleaded innocent, and eight others named in a federal indictment unsealed Friday in Fresno, Calif. 

Those indicted include Harry Eldon Tschernetzki of Spokane, who was arrested May 9 on child sexual-exploitation charges and pleaded guilty Aug. 1. He has not yet been sentenced but faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Shively in Spokane.

That charge concerned explicit photographs of Tschernetzki with his daughter, who is about 5, Shively said. The girl is now with her mother, who was not involved, he said.

The federal indictment includes additional charges against Tschernetzski, who has been in custody since his arrest, Shively said. He had been employed as a school janitor but worked nights and had no contact with children, Shively said.

Another, Jeffrey Naimo of Killeen, Texas, has pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years in prison, Bonner said.

An 11th American, Sean Bradley of Reno, Nev., committed suicide prior to the filing of formal charges.

Six residents of Denmark, Switzerland and the Netherlands also were indicted in Fresno, and the Justice Department is seeking their extradition to face charges, Bonner said.

Four other Europeans were charged abroad as part of the joint investigation with the Danish National Police that reached Belgium, Germany, England, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Customs officials said they would not identify them or specify their nationality because the investigation is ongoing.

Two Englishmen and two Germans face charges in their home countries, officials said.

The indictment alleges that members of the ring, referring to themselves as "The Club," traded messages across the Internet requesting photographs of specific sexual poses.

One man asked for an audiotape so he could hear a child crying while being spanked, the indictment said, and another posed naked with an underage girl.

In one instance, a man swapped his own children with another pedophile to be abused, Bonner alleged.

The investigation began when the international charity Save the Children found a picture of Eggert Jensen molesting his 9-year-old daughter on the Internet and reported it to Danish authorities. The Danish National Police traced Jensen through a company logo on the shirt he wore in the picture, said Customs special agent Mike Netherland.

Danish police found information on the Jensens' computer that was forwarded to the U.S. Customs Service and led to the arrest in January of Emmerson in Clovis, Calif.

Paul Whitmore and Brooke Rowland, both of San Diego, also were arrested in January based on information from Denmark, investigators said.

Searches of the California suspects' computers led to nine other U.S. citizens, Netherland said.

The other Americans facing charges include: Tracy Reynolds of Longview, Texas; Leslie Peter Bowcut, Burley, Idaho; Michael David Harland, West Palm Beach, Fla.; John Zill, Greeneville, S.C.; and Craig Davidson, Kansas City, Kan.

The six foreigners indicted in Fresno were identified as the Jensens of Denmark; Jean-Michael Frances Cattin, Marcel Egli and Peter Althaus of Switzerland; and Dirk-Jan Prins of the Netherlands. No hometowns were provided.

The charges of sexual exploitation of children, conspiracy to exploit children, and receiving and distributing child pornography each carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years to a maximum of 20 years. Some defendants could receive 60 years if convicted of all charges against them, Bonner said.

Authorities are still trying to identify other children in some of the explicit pictures, and more arrests are expected.

Bonner said the wide availability of child pornography on the Internet encourages pedophiles.

"Together we must find ways to protect our children and to starve the pedophiles of the sordid images that induce them to act," he said.

A few of those arrested received pictures but did not produce them, Bonner said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.