Man Who Made Millions by Hosting Child Pornography on Servers Gets 27 Years in Prison

Described by U.S. authorities as the most prolific distributor of child pornography in the world when he was arrested in Ireland, Eric Eoin Marques was sentenced to 27 years in prison on Wednesday.

The convicted sex offender built and operated servers on the so-called dark web where anonymous users view see millions of illegal videos and images depicting the rape and torture of infants and toddlers, according to authorities.

The volume of content was so great that law enforcement said they had never seen so many before discovering Marques' servers, prosecutors said. U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang told Marques in court that his activities equaled that of a drug kingpin.

"This crime was truly despicable," Chuang said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

A man who built servers storing some of the highest volumes of child pornography seen by authorities was sentenced to prison on Wednesday. A computer network server cabinet with a mess of tangled blue-colored network cables on November 22, 2017 in Cardiff, United Kingdom. Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

Prior to learning his sentence, Marques apologized 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 U.S. since his 2013 arrest. The judge also ordered him to pay restitution of $87,000 to victims of the child pornography that he helped distribute.

The original version of the plea agreement between Marques and prosecutors called for a prison sentence of 15 to 21 years.

Chuang rejected that deal during a hearing in May, calling it "too flawed" and saying he was inclined to give Marques a longer sentence than 15 to 21 years.

The revised agreement recommended a prison sentence between 21 and 27 years, but Chuang wasn't bound by those terms.

Prosecutors recommended a 27-year sentence with lifetime supervision after his release.

"It goes without saying that the crimes committed by [Marques] are without parallel," prosecutors wrote, saying he "created a 'safe place' for child sexual abusers to meet and share images, videos, to encourage, to promote and discuss the sexual abuse of children, to include infants."

Defense attorneys said a 21-year sentence would be "fair and just" for Marques, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Ireland. His lawyers also asked Chuang to allow Marques to return to Ireland after he completes his prison sentence.

"No punishment can undo the harms reaped upon the victims of child pornography," they wrote. "However, the Court must mete out a sentence that weighs that harm among many other factors."

The original plea deal wouldn't have given Marques credit for the time he spent in custody while fighting extradition after his 2013 arrest in Dublin. But Chuang criticized that provision. The judge said in May that he can't tell the Federal Bureau of Prisons to refrain from counting those years when Marques likely was entitled to get credit for that time.

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 pornography 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 offenses. He was extradited to Maryland in March 2019. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to advertise child pornography.

In an April court filing, a prosecutor said a government witness was prepared to testify that investigators had identified Marques as the largest purveyor of child pornography in the world and that he had made approximately $3.6 million in U.S. currency from his servers.

Marques' lawyers said he made money from his legitimate web-hosting services, not Freedom Hosting.