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'World's biggest child porn peddler' faces 15 years in US prison

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Eric Eoin Marques spent years fighting extradition to the US. Photo: Patrick Cummins Photography

Eric Eoin Marques spent years fighting extradition to the US. Photo: Patrick Cummins Photography

Eric Eoin Marques spent years fighting extradition to the US. Photo: Patrick Cummins Photography

An Irishman accused of being the world's biggest facilitator of child porn is facing a minimum of 15 years in a US prison.

Eric Eoin Marques (34), who spent years fighting his extradition from Dublin to the US, pleaded guilty yesterday in a Maryland courtroom to operating a web hosting service that allowed users to anonymously access more than one million files of child pornography.

He faces a mandatory minimum of 15 years in prison and a maximum of 30 years after his guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to advertise child pornography.

Marques has a Brazilian father and an Irish mother. He was born in New York but was brought up in Dublin.

Torture

A plea agreement will ask US District Judge Theodore Chuang to sentence Marques to between 15 and 21 years in prison, but the judge is not bound by the recommendation.

Marques, who previously had an address at Mountjoy Square, can withdraw his guilty plea if the judge departs from that recommended range.

US District Judge Theodore Chuang is scheduled to sentence Marques on May 11.

A criminal complaint accused Marques of operating a web hosting service on the darknet that allowed thousands of users to view and share images of child pornography, including many depicting the rape and torture of infants.

Marques, a dual citizen of the US and Ireland, has remained in custody since his August 2013 arrest in Dublin after an extradition request from the US.

He was living in Ireland at the time of the alleged offences.

The server that he allegedly used was in France.

Marques was extradited to Maryland last year. The plea agreement does not give him credit for the nearly six years he spent in custody here.

The darknet is accessible only through anonymity-providing tools, such as the Tor browser.

Marques was, the complaint said, suspected of operating a free, anonymous web hosting service on a network allowing users to access websites without revealing their IP addresses.

In July 2013, according to the complaint, FBI agents in Maryland connected to the network and accessed a child pornography bulletin board with more than 7,700 members and more than 22,000 posts.

Agents downloaded more than a million files from another website on the network.

"Did you do the things the government said you did?" the judge asked Marques after a prosecutor read aloud a summary of the case against him.

"Yes," Marques said.

In a December 19 court filing, Marques' defence lawyers said "perhaps the greatest overarching question" about the case is how federal investigators were able to pierce the Tor network's "veil of anonymity" and trace the IP address of the server to a web hosting company in Roubaix, France.

"This anonymity is notoriously difficult for government investigators to penetrate," they wrote.

Defence lawyers said they received an initial answer to that question earlier in December, when the US government revealed "vague details" of how they discovered the IP address and location of the server.

"It appears that this disclosure was delayed, in part, because the investigative techniques employed were, until recently, classified," they wrote.

One of Marques' lawyers, Brendan Hurson of the Office of the Federal Public Defender, said after yesterday's hearing that he could not elaborate on the government's disclosure.

Citizenship

Marques was charged in April last year in Greenbelt, Maryland, on four counts: conspiring to advertise child pornography, conspiring to distribute child pornography, advertising child pornography and distribution of child pornography.

At a 2013 bail hearing in Dublin, FBI agent Brooke Donahue called him "the largest facilitator of child porn on the planet."

Mr Donahue also testified that Marques had been searching online for information about obtaining a Russian visa and citizenship, RTE reported.

"He was trying to look for a place to reside to make it most difficult to be extradited to the US," the FBI agent said.