WASHINGTON - The FBI said it has shut down a nationwide child pornography ring that operated through an e-mail message group. Authorities arrested 19 people yesterday, who were among 89 charged over the past year, including a Baltimore priest.
The priest, the Rev. Thomas A. Rydzewski, 35, an associate pastor at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on North Charles Street, was arrested Dec. 12, charged with possessing child pornography. A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore said he is on administrative leave at Saint Luke Institute, a treatment facility in Silver Spring, pending a court hearing.
Three others who have been charged are members of the clergy, FBI officials said, including a Catholic priest from St. Louis. Officials did not provide the names or hometowns of those charged. Among them, officials said, were bus drivers, nurses, teachers' aides and police officers.
The FBI has arrested 40 people, including the 19 yesterday. The bureau plans to arrest the remaining 49 or more over the next week in the operation dubbed "Operation Candyman," after the name of the message group that operated on Yahoo.
Bureau officials said up to seven more arrests are expected from the Baltimore field office, which handles cases in most of Maryland. Agents have searched 11 homes and offices in the state.
"It is clear that a new marketplace for child pornography has emerged in the dark spaces of the Internet," Ashcroft said. "There will be no free rides on the Internet for those who traffic in child pornography."
The operation spanned 20 states and involved an e-mail message group and a Web site. Bruce J. Gebhardt, the FBI's executive assistant director for cybercrime, said more than 7,000 people worldwide used the site and group to post, download and share pornographic photos of children.
Gebhardt said agents have also identified, and plan to scrutinize, two other Internet message groups that focus on child pornography. Those groups, along with the Candyman network, have been shut down.
Officials did not provide detailed information about many of those arrested.
Throughout the inquiry into Candyman, officials said, agents received information about possible cases of child molestation, gleaned from interviews with witnesses and suspects. Of the 40 people arrested on child pornography charges, 27 have also been charged with molesting children.
Authorities said Yahoo executives had cooperated by providing information about message-group subscribers that they say is crucial to fighting cybercrime.
Internet companies "say it takes money and resources for them to police the Web," said Mike Heimbach, head of the FBI's children's crime unit, who led the investigation. "But we here in law enforcement can't do it all ourselves."