WASHINGTON – A Cumberland, Md., man pleaded guilty yesterday for his role as a lead administrator of an online child pornography bulletin board.
The guilty plea was announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge William Winter of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); and Postal Inspector in Charge Daniel S. Cortez of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), Washington Division.
George Sell, 70, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr. of the District of Maryland to conspiracy to transport child pornography.
According to his plea agreement, from December 2006 through August 2008, Sell and others conspired to operate “Country Lounge,” a secure web-based bulletin board dedicated to trading images of child pornography. Members could join this group only upon invitation and after approval by the group’s administrators, including Sell. To obtain access to the bulletin board, members needed a log-in username and password. Members were instructed by a specific set of rules and guidelines on how to post images via “Country Lounge” to avoid detection from law enforcement. As of August 2008, 142 members belonged to the bulletin board, which was hosted on computer servers in Virginia and Texas. In October 2008, the bulletin board was seized by law enforcement authorities.
According to court documents, Sell conspired with other individuals to take control of “Country Lounge” from its former owner and administrator, directed the creation and operation of a new “Country Lounge,” and received technical advice and assistance from co-conspirators to obtain his goal of creating and operating a new “Country Lounge.” From December 2006 through July 2008, Sell was the “root administrator” and day-to-day manager of the bulletin board and conspired to transport images of child pornography. Sell admitted that he directed the daily management of the bulletin board, including direction over its layout and content, membership and the “rules” of the board.
In November 2009, ICE HSI special agents executed a search warrant at Sell’s residence and removed two computer hard-drives and other items. A forensic review of these items found them to contain multiple images of child pornography, many of which he obtained from “Country Lounge.”
As part of his plea agreement, Sell is subject to the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), and must register as a sex offender in the place where he resides, where he is an employee and where he is a student.
Judge Williams scheduled sentencing for Jan. 25, 2012. As part of the plea agreement, Sell and the government have agreed that if the court accepts the plea agreement, a sentence of 10 years in prison is the appropriate disposition of the case.
One of Sell’s co-conspirators, Terry Lee Nolley, pleaded guilty on Oct. 25, 2011, for his participation in the bulletin board. Nolley is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 25, 2012.
This case resulted from a two-year international investigation called Operation Nest Egg, as part of Project Safe Childhood. Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov. Details about Maryland’s program are available at www.justice.gov/usao/md/Safe-Childhood/index.html.
This case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Jennifer Toritto Leonardo and Darcy Katzin of the Criminal Division’s CEOS and Assistant U.S. Attorney Stacy Belf of the District of Maryland. The case was investigated by ICE HSI, USPIS and the NASA Office of Inspector General.