Today’s news:

Six Queens residents nabbed in federal child porn sweep

Six Queens residents, including a former New York City police officer from Floral Park, were among 20 metropolitan area men arrested last Thursday in a yearlong kiddie-porn investigation, authorities said.

The 20 men, all allegedly members of the same Internet chat group maintained by Yahoo, were arrested March 21 as part of a 14-month nationwide investigation called “Operation Candyman,” said U.S. Attorney General Alan Vinegrad in the Eastern District of New York.

He said the men, charged with possession of child pornography, were believed to have belonged to an Internet web group known as “Candyman,” which was designed to help facilitate the distribution of pornographic movies and photos.

Floral Park resident Brian Mathews, 40, who was dismissed from the New York Police Department in 1998 for allegedly trading in child pornography even though charges were not filed, was one of the six Queens men arrested, according to a source close to the investigation.

Also arrested were Mathew Coplan of Oakland Gardens, Salvatore Buttiglieri of Maspeth, Ismael Hernandez of Elmhurst, Edward Noble Roberts of Astoria and John Despirito of Glendale.

None of the Queens defendants could be reached for comment.

Each of the men has been charged with between five and 10 counts of possession of child pornography. They could face a maximum sentence of 15 years in jail and a $250,000 fine for each count if convicted, the U.S. attorney’s office said. In addition, they also face a three -year term of supervised release.

“These defendants allegedly preyed upon the most vulnerable among us,” said Kevin Donovan, assistant FBI director in charge of the New York office. “The FBI is committed to pursuing those individuals who sexually exploit our children and to eliminating the means by which they do it.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation was able to identify the members of the Internet group through the screen names each used when they subscribed to the site. Authorities said the site, which allowed its members to correspond with each other, proclaimed: “This group is for people who love kids. You can post any type of messages you like, too, or any type of pics and vids you like, too.”

According to the U.S. attorney’s office, analysis of the defendants’ computers determined that some had large collections of child pornography and some included images of children as young as a year old.

The arrests were part of a nationwide operation in which 89 people from 20 states have been arrested in a crackdown on Internet child pornography, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced March 18. He said more arrests were to follow.

“The 20 arrests today in the Eastern District of New York reflect the strong commitment of this office and of our law enforcement partners to the elimination of child pornography through the aggressive prosecution of participants in its commerce,” Vinegrad said.

“In addition,” he said, “the fact that three active child abusers and producers of child pornography were also arrested demonstrates the significance and importance of this nationwide law enforcement initiative.”

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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