Marlon A. Walker
(Raleigh) News & Observer
BURLINGTON --Ronald White's criminal record lists a nearly 24-year-old charge for running a red light as his lone brush with the law.
But now the 59-year-old faces up to life in prison, accused of being part of what FBI investigators call one of the most intelligent child pornography operations they've ever seen.
White, along with 13 other men in the United States, is accused of participating in an international ring that produced or traded more than 400,000 images and videos of child pornography. Department of Justice officials said that since August 2006, the men had been using sophisticated encryption methods to avoid detection by law enforcement.
The network operated on an Internet newsgroup, which, according to a federal indictment, uses a network of computers to enable file sharing.
Two men, from Pennsylvania and Texas, were arrested Feb. 29 on criminal complaints in the case.
Once law enforcement investigators gained access to the group, they watched as members traded photos and uploaded items onto the group board.
Little is known of White's alleged involvement in the network. Department of Justice officials did not answer questions about whether they think he was responsible for uploading images or video to the network.
Investigators said a person on the network, operating under the user name "Roadkill," commented on photos on Jan. 2, 2007, posted by another member of the network. Roadkill, according to the indictment, was White's user name on the network.
A car was outside White's home at 413 Piedmont Way in Burlington on Thursday afternoon, but no one responded to a knock on the door.
Details of the indictment, unsealed in 1st District Court in Pensacola, Fla., on Feb. 29, detailed the alleged goings-on of network participants. Photos and video depicted children -- some as young as toddlers -- in various poses or scenes with adults. Network members commented with praise for the young children, including one girl who a member said "is to die for in those pigtails." Another man, a James Freeman from Florida, called the group "the greatest group of pedos to ever gather in one place."
A call to the FBI to find out whether victims identified in the images and videos were being sought was not returned.
Laura Sweeney, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, said Thursday night that all the defendants were either being transported or were already in federal custody in Pensacola, Fla.
The case was part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide effort to protect children from becoming victims of online exploitation and abuse. In all, 22 people were arrested from the U.S., Australia, Canada, England and Germany.
(News researcher Lamara Williams contributed to this report.)