Twenty charged with molesting children as part of international Internet pornography ring

Friday, August 9th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A group of parents sexually molested their own children and sent pornographic pictures of them worldwide over the Internet, U.S. Customs officials said Friday, announcing 20 arrests in the United States and abroad.

Forty-five children, including 37 in the United States who ranged in age from 2 to about 14, were victims and have been removed from the care of those indicted, Customs officials said. Eighty percent of the children were molested by one of their own parents, they said. Most of them are in the custody of another parent or relative, or foster care.

``I've rarely seen crimes as despicable and repugnant,'' said Customs Commissioner Robert C. Bonner.

Ten U.S. citizens have been charged since January, including nine named in an indictment unsealed Friday in Fresno, Calif. One has already pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years in prison, Bonner said. The 10th American committed suicide after his arrest.

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

Four other foreigners were charged abroad as part of the joint investigation with the Danish National Police that reached Belgium, Germany, England, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

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

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.

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

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.

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

The man and his wife were arrested, and Danish police found information on his computer that was forwarded to the U.S. Customs Service and led to the arrests in January of Lloyd Alan Emmerson of Clovis, Calif., and Paul Whitmore and Brooke Rowland of San Diego, Netherland said.

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

The other Americans charged include: Tracy Reynolds, Texas; Leslie Peter Bowcut, Idaho; Michael David Harland, Florida; Harry Eldon Tschernetzki, Washington state; John Zill, South Carolina; Craig Davidson, Kansas.

The foreigners indicted in Fresno were identified as Eggert Jensen and Bente Jensen of Denmark; Jean-Michael Frances Cattin, Marcel Egli and Peter Althaus of Switzerland; and Dirk-Jan Prins of the Netherlands. The others were indicted abroad.