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Man behind world’s biggest source of child abuse imagery is jailed for 27 years | US news

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A man described by US authorities as the world’s most prolific purveyor of child sexual abuse images at the time of his arrest in Ireland has been sentenced to 27 years in federal prison.

Eric Eoin Marques, 36, created and operated computer servers on the dark web that enabled users to anonymously access millions of illegal images and videos, many depicting the rape and torture of infants and toddlers. Law enforcement had never seen many of those images before finding them on Marques’ servers, according to prosecutors.

US district judge Theodore Chuang told Marques that his crimes were the equivalent of those of a drug kingpin. “This crime was truly despicable,” Chuang said.

Prior to learning his sentence, Marques apologised to the victims and asked for mercy from the court. “I have destroyed my reputation and my family’s reputation. Please give me a second chance,” he told Chuang.

The judge agreed to recommend that the federal Bureau of Prisons give Marques credit for eight years he has served in custody both in Ireland and the US since his 2013 arrest. The judge also ordered him to pay restitution of $87,000 to victims of the child abuse images that he helped distribute.

Justice Department prosecutor Ralph Paradiso said Marques created an online community for sexual predators to anonymously abuse and exploit children and share the horrific images that they created.

“They all got together and they sexually exploited children,” he said. “They revelled in that sexual exploitation.”

Marques is a dual citizen of the US and Ireland, and could return to Ireland after his sentence. “There is no one in this courtroom who is not repulsed by what happened in this case,” said assistant federal public defender Brendan Hurson, one of Marques’ lawyers. “He will not do this again, and he is remorseful for what he has done.”

Marques pleaded guilty in February 2020 to creating and operating a web hosting service called “Freedom Hosting” on the darknet between 2008 and 2013. The darknet is part of the internet but hosted within an encrypted network. It is accessible only through anonymity-providing tools.

Investigators found what appeared to be more than 8.5 million images and videos of child sexual abuse on the Freedom Hosting server, according to a court filing that accompanied Marques’ guilty plea.

Marques was living in Ireland at the time of the offences. He was extradited to Maryland in March 2019. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to advertise child pornography.

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The Groucho

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