An Irish man, who was described as the world's largest facilitator of child abuse images, has been sentenced to 27 years in prison by a US court.
Eric Eoin Marques, 36, from Dublin, had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to advertise child abuse images by operating an anonymous web hosting service.
A prison sentence of 21 to 27 years had been recommended as part of a plea agreement.
At a sentencing hearing today at the US District Court of Maryland, Judge Theodore Chuang described the crime as truly despicable and the child abuse images as vile.
He handed down a sentence of 27 years and said that Marques was the equivalent of a drugs kingpin in a drugs case.
He added that it was a good thing for the world that he will be behind bars for a long time.
The court was told that Marques plans to return to Ireland when he is released from prison and the judge ordered that he would have to notify the Gardaí of his intention to travel to Ireland prior his departure from the US.
Marques' defence lawyer told the court that his client will register with the Irish authorities when he arrives in the country.
Marques, who was dressed in a wine-coloured prison jump suit and black face mask, addressed the court prior to the sentence being handed down.
He said he was very sorry to the victims and that he was begging the court for mercy.
"I know what I did was wrong," he said, adding that he had learned his lesson and would never do anything like this again.
He said he had destroyed his reputation and his family's reputation and he asked the judge to give him a second chance.
As part of his plea agreement, Eric Eoin Marques admitted that between 24 July 2008 and 29 July 2013 he conspired to advertise child abuse images by operating an anonymous web hosting service.
Marques, who was born in New York in 1985 and who has dual Irish and US citizenship, was arrested in Dublin in 2013 and extradited to the US by Irish authorities in 2019.
According to court documents, Marques operated a free, anonymous hosting service located on the "dark web".
It is an area of the internet that is only accessible by means of special software, allowing users and website operators to remain anonymous or untraceable.
The service hosted websites that allowed users to view and share images documenting the sexual abuse of children.
Prosecutors said the hosting service contained over 8.5 million images of child exploitation material and that over 1.9 million of these images and/or videos involved victims that were not known by law enforcement.
Speaking to RTÉ News, US Attorney for Maryland, John Lenzner said that the sentence handed down to Marques sends a "powerful message to those who are trading in child pornography, or are contemplating trading in child pornography".
He said that Marques was creating the "demand and the supply" for a very dangerous and harmful trade to children throughout the world.
Mr Lenzner said: "It was important to get a sentence that not only tells those out there that we will find you and hold you accountable for trading in child pornography; but also to the victims, to make sure they know that law enforcement here and overseas are committed to finding the criminals who exploit them and then when we can, seeking restitution for them."
An Irish man has been sentenced to 27 years in prison by a US court. Eric Eoin Marques, 36, Dublin, was described as the world's largest facilitator of child abuse images. | Read: https://t.co/QkTUU2qKXM pic.twitter.com/iXNDccrkJr— RTÉ News (@rtenews) September 15, 2021