Federal authorities allege that the husband of an Atlanta police officer took photos of himself having sex with several young girls, and say the police department had some of the pictures seven years ago but took no action.

"This is a very disturbing case, for many reasons," U.S. Attorney David Nahmias said Thursday.

Terrill Crane was in federal custody pending an initial appearance Friday before a magistrate judge. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of producing child pornography. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office said he did not know who would be representing Terrill Crane at the hearing.

Prosecutors say Crane's wife, Sgt. Tanya Crane, destroyed potential evidence, but she has not been charged. She is on paid administrative leave from the police force, department spokeswoman Judy Pal said Friday. A phone listing for the couple in Georgia could not be located Friday.

Federal prosecutors said that a photo shop employee contacted the Atlanta Police Department in 2000 because he was concerned about the content of film developed for Terrill Crane, and that photos were provided to police over the next two years.

They were not turned over to the FBI until Oct. 16 of this year, the U.S. attorney's office said.

Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington, named to his post in 2002, said in a statement that he learned of the allegations in October and immediately notified the FBI.

"The alleged actions — and any purported failure to take action — will not be tolerated within the Atlanta Police Department," Pennington said.

Pal, the Atlanta police spokeswoman, said she does not know what happened to the photos between 2000 and 2007. She said the chief was alerted to the situation by other staff. She did not provide further details, citing an internal investigation.

According to a statement issued by prosecutors, photographs from 1999 to 2002 show Crane having sexual activity with at least 11 different girls, all of whom were minors at the time. The girls appeared to be between the ages of 12 and 15, federal prosecutors said.

Photographs recovered in a search of Crane's home last week allegedly depict his sexual activity with at least two other young girls, prosecutors said. Of the 13 girls in the two sets of pictures, four have been positively identified, and authorities are seeking the public's help in identifying the rest.

Prosecutors said Crane befriended young girls, took them to his home or pickup truck, and then gave them cash to engage in sexual conduct. Crane also offered the girls $50 to bring him other young girls, prosecutors said, adding that Crane sometimes took photos or directed photos to be taken of the sexual activity.

In 2003, Crane's wife allegedly learned from an unidentified person at Atlanta police headquarters that police had photos of her husband having sex with young girls. She then burned some explicit photos and negatives she found in her house, federal prosecutors said.