Dark Web Child Pornography Facilitator Pleads Guilty to Federal Charge of Conspiracy to Advertise Child Pornography
Hosting Service Contained Over 8.5 Million Images of Child Exploitation Material
Greenbelt, Maryland – Eric Eoin Marques, age 33, of Dublin, Ireland, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to advertise child pornography on the dark web. Marques, a dual national citizen of the United States and Ireland, was extradited by Irish authorities and arrived in the United States on March 23, 2019, to face federal criminal charges filed in Maryland on August 8, 2013.
The guilty plea was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert K. Hur; Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; and Assistant Director Calvin Shivers of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.
“Child pornography is created by documenting the sexual abuse of children,” said U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur. “This is an egregious case where one individual facilitated the abuse of more than a million new child victims and attempted to keep the abuse hidden on the dark web. We must do everything we can to bring individuals like Marques to justice in order to keep our children safe.”
“The defendant’s anonymous web service hosted dozens of insidious criminal communities dedicated to the sexual exploitation of children and spread millions of images of that abuse,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “His guilty plea is proof of the Department’s fierce commitment to rooting out those who hide behind anonymous networks to commit serious child exploitation offenses.”
“Today’s guilty plea validates the FBI’s unwavering commitment to stop those who sexually exploit innocent children,” said Assistant Director Calvin Shivers of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “The FBI and its international law enforcement partners will remain steadfast in their pursuit of justice for the world’s most vulnerable victims harmed at the ruthless hands of others.”
According his plea agreement, between July 24, 2008 and July 29, 2013, Marques conspired to advertise child pornography by operating a free, anonymous web hosting service (AHS) located on the “dark web”, an area of the Internet that is only accessible by means of special software, allowing users and website operators to remain anonymous or untraceable. The investigation revealed that the AHS contained over 8.5 million images of child exploitation material and over 1.97 million of these images and/or videos involved victims that were not known by law enforcement. As of July 12, 2013, one child exploitation website hosted on the hosting service reported nearly 1.4 million files were uploaded and accessible by individuals who visited that hidden service.
During 2012 and 2013, FBI special agents and employees using computers in Maryland downloaded more than one million files from that website. As part of the investigation, those files were reviewed and nearly all of the files depict children who are engaging in sexually explicit conduct with adults or other children, posed nude and/or in such a manner as to expose their genitals, in various state of undress, or depict child erotica. A substantial majority of the images downloaded by the FBI depict prepubescent minor children who are fully or partially nude or engaged in sexually explicit conduct.
Marques admits that this offense also involved the distribution of child pornography, which involved minors who were less than twelve years old, to include infants and toddlers, and sadistic or masochistic material or depictions of violence. Marques further admits that he willfully obstructed or impeded the administration of justice with respect to the investigation into this offense.
Marques and the government have agreed that, if the Court accepts the plea agreement, Marques will be sentenced to between 15 and 21 years in federal prison. U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang has scheduled sentencing for May 11, 2020 at 2:30 p.m.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the United States Attorney’s Offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.justice.gov/psc. For more information about Internet safety education, please visit www.justice.gov/psc and click on the "Resources" tab on the left of the page.
United States Attorney Robert K. Hur and Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski commended the FBI’s Violent Crime Section, Child Exploitation Operational Unit and Violent Crimes Against Children International Task Force with significant assistance from the Legal Attaché London Office, Irish law enforcement authorities, An Garda Síochána and EUROPOL. The Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs provided significant assistance in bringing Marques to the United States and procuring foreign evidence during the investigation.
Mr. Hur and Mr. Benczkowski thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas M. Sullivan and Kristi N. O’Malley, and Deputy Chief Keith A. Becker and Trial Attorney Ralph Paradiso of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, who are prosecuting the federal case.
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