An online child pornography ring required would-be members to share explicit pictures of children to show they weren't in law enforcement and that they could provide such images, according to federal prosecutors, who announced Tuesday that eight men have been charged.
Once a member, they had to continue sharing child pornography, court documents show.
More than 100 people could be involved, according to court documents that name Stephen Sims, 55, of San Leandro, Calif., as a "security officer" of a private group on the social networking site Multiply, where he vetted potential members.
In an e-mail to one potential member, he described himself as a "den mother" of a "completely private group ... of like-minded individuals," according to court documents.
He suggested the would-be member post "non-sexual, non-young types" until he could double-check everything.
A message left for Sims' attorney with the federal public defender's office on Tuesday was not returned.
The case is the first prosecution of a child exploitation enterprise that makes use of a social networking site under a recent federal law created by the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, acting U.S. Attorney Robert Cessar said in news release Tuesday.
"The ongoing investigation has both a nationwide and international reach," he said.
Images found on members' accounts included prepubescent boys and girls engaged in sexual activity with each other and with adults, according to court documents. One image showed an in infant girl "with her legs spread in a lascivious exhibition of her genitalia."
All eight are charged with engaging in a child exploitation enterprise and conspiring to violate federal child exploitation laws.
Messages left with attorneys for the other defendants were not immediately returned. Six defendants are being detained and two were granted bail.
The investigation stems from the 2008 arrest of an unidentified western Pennsylvania man for child pornography. He is cooperating with investigators.