NEW YORK (Reuters) - At least two people including a former New York City school teacher have been criminally charged in connection with an investigation into a child pornography website the FBI seized earlier this year that authorities say had nearly 215,000 users.
Alex Schreiber, a former math teacher, was arrested on Tuesday on a federal charge of knowingly possessing child pornography and later released on a $100,000 bond following an appearance in federal court in Brooklyn, New York.
Brooklyn resident Peter Ferrell, meanwhile, was indicted by a federal grand jury on Wednesday for receiving and possessing child pornography, about a month after authorities first charged him over his alleged use of the website.
The cases appeared to be among the first brought so far in a major online child pornography probe involving a secret website, described in court papers only as “Website A.”
The website began operating around August 2014 and contained thousands of postings and messages featuring child pornography images and had 214,898 members, authorities said in court papers.
The website operated on a network designed to facilitate anonymous communication over the Internet that protected users’ privacy, court papers state.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Feb. 20 seized the website’s North Carolina server but allowed it to remain operating for about two weeks while authorities investigated its users, court records state.
The scale of the probe became clear on Monday after an FBI application to search a Brooklyn apartment connected to a user named “plowden23” was unsealed in Brooklyn federal court.
That identity belonged to Ferrell, according to papers filed June 11 when he was first charged.
Schreiber, a resident of the New York City borough of Queens, separately had visited the website under the user name “philsic,” logging in for 194 hours from September to March, a criminal complaint said.
In one instance, Schreiber, 66, accessed a post containing a link to about 400 images of an approximately 5-year-old girl engaged in various sexual acts, including with an adult man, the complaint said.
Lawyers for Schreiber and Ferrell did not respond to requests for comment.
The investigation of “Website A” is ongoing.
The probe mirrors an earlier, smaller FBI investigation in Nebraska called “Operation Torpedo” that resulted in more than two dozen people being charged after three websites were seized in 2012.
Those websites, according to court documents, operated on the Tor network, which allows users to communicate anonymously.
Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Tom Brown and Andrew Hay