An Irish-American man described by the FBI as “the largest facilitator of child porn on the planet” faced a U.S. judge for the first time this week, on allegations that he ran an anonymous web hosting service that allowed users to post images of child rape.
After five years in Irish custody, Eric Eoin Marques, 33, was extradited on March 23 and stood before a federal judge in Maryland two days later.
He is charged with four counts related to the advertisement and distribution of child pornography.
In a 16-page criminal complaint outlining the case against Marques, an FBI agent describes the graphic content of two Dark Web sites only available through special software, and hosted by a service that allowed users to remain “anonymous or untraceable.”
The complaint contains explicit descriptions of images of sexual torture, bestiality, and rape that were available — and searchable — to website users. The child victims included infants, according to court documents.
Investigators reviewed more than one million files from one website and found that “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 states of undress, or depict child erotica,” the U.S. Department of Justice summarized.
The U.S. government alleges Marques ran the now-defunct business, Freedom Hosting, for at least five years, from July 2008 to July 2013, according to the complaint. He was arrested in Dublin in 2013.
In a Dublin court bail hearing, FBI Special Agent Brooke Donahue described Marques as “the largest facilitator of child porn on the planet.”
“Criminals cannot hide on the dark web or in foreign countries,” said U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur. “We will find them and bring them to justice.”
Hacktivist group Anonymous repeatedly targeted Freedom Hosting in 2011, taking down links to what they claimed were more than 40 child pornography sites.
When an administrator restored services, Anonymous “once again infiltrated the shared hosting server at Freedom Hosting and stopped service to all clients,” the group described. They declared the hosting service “Enemy Number One” in their collective anti-child pornography efforts, known as Operation DarkNet.
“The owners and operators at Freedom Hosting are openly supporting child pornography and enabling pedophiles to view innocent children, fueling their issues and putting children at risk of abduction, molestation, rape, and death,” Anonymous stated at the time.
The Irish media closely monitored Marques’ case over the years, as the dual US-Irish citizen fought extradition in the Irish courts.
Last week, however, Ireland’s Supreme Court cleared the way for his removal to face the U.S. charges.
Marques was born in New York to a Brazilian father and Irish mother. The family moved to Ireland when Marques was 6, according to media reports.
He is scheduled to make a second appearance in Maryland district court on March 27 for a detention hearing.