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Child Exploitation

Maryland lead administrator of online child pornography bulletin board pleads guilty

GREENBELT, Md. – A Maryland man pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiracy to transport child pornography in connection with his role as a lead administrator of an online child pornography bulletin board. The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations and U.S. Postal Inspection Service, with the assistance from the Allegany County Combined Criminal Investigations Unit (C3I).

As part of his plea agreement, George Sell, 70, of Cumberland, Md., must register as a sex offender in the place where he resides, where he is an employee, and where he is a student, under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams, Jr. scheduled sentencing for Jan. 25, 2012. As part of the plea agreement, Sell and the government have agreed that if the court accepts the plea agreement, he will face 10 years in prison.

One of Sell's co-conspirators, Terry Lee Nolley, 47, of Silver Spring, Md., pleaded guilty Oct. 25, for his participation in the bulletin board. Nolley is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 25, 2012.

According to the plea agreement, from December 2006 through August 2008, Sell and others conspired to operate "Country Lounge," a secure web-based bulletin board dedicated to trading images of child pornography. Members could join this group only upon invitation and after approval by the group's administrators, including Sell. To obtain access to the bulletin board, members needed a username and password. Members were instructed by a specific set of rules and guidelines on how to post images via "Country Lounge" to avoid detection from law enforcement. As of August 2008, 142 members belonged to the bulletin board, which was hosted on computer servers in Virginia and Texas. In October 2008, the bulletin board was seized by law enforcement authorities.

According to court documents, Sell conspired with other individuals to take control of "Country Lounge" from its former owner and administrator, directed the creation and operation of a new "Country Lounge," and received technical advice and assistance from co-conspirators to obtain his goal of creating and operating a new "Country Lounge." From December 2006 through July 2008, Sell was the "root administrator" and day-to-day manager of the bulletin board and conspired to transport images of child pornography. Sell admitted that he directed the daily management of the bulletin board, including direction over its layout and content, membership and the rules of the board.

In November 2009, ICE HSI special agents executed a search warrant at Sell's residence and removed two computer hard drives and other items. A forensic review of these items found them to contain multiple images of child pornography, many of which he obtained from "Country Lounge."

This case resulted from a two year international investigation called Operation Nest Egg, as part of Project Safe Childhood. Project Safe Childhood is a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by United States Attorneys' Offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov. Details about Maryland's program are available at www.justice.gov/usao/md/Safe-Childhood/index.html.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stacy Belf and U.S. Department of Justice Trial Attorneys Darcy Katzin and Jennifer Toritto Leonardo from the Criminal Division Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section are prosecuting the case.