An Irishman described as the world’s largest facilitator of child abuse imagery is to receive a sentence of up to 27 years in US prison under a deal agreed on Tuesday.
Eric Eoin Marques (36), from Dublin, is to learn his final sentence on September 15th next in Maryland Federal District Court, following eight years of legal proceedings in Ireland and the US.
The dual US and Irish citizen operated an anonymous web hosting service between July 2008 and July 2013 which was used to share millions of images of child sexual abuse.
The US government said Marques’ web service “hosted dozens of insidious criminal communities dedicated to the sexual exploitation of children and spread millions of images of that abuse”.
He was accused of renting out his vast network of servers to websites which trade in the buying and selling of the most extreme forms of child abuse material. He is also alleged to have profited greatly from this activity, earning €1.15 million over a five-year period.
Marques pleaded guilty to conspiracy to advertise child pornography in February last year as part of a plea agreement that would see him serve between 15 and 21 years in federal prison.
However the plea deal fell apart last month after a judge ruled it was unclear if the sentence would account for the six years Marques spent in custody in Ireland while fighting his extradition.
On Tuesday, lawyers for the US government and Marques brought a revised plea deal to Judge Theodore Chuang which would see him receive a sentence of between 21 and 27 years in prison.
Under the deal, the judge would recommend to the US Bureau of Prisons that Marques receive credit for time served in the US and Ireland. This would bring the sentence down to between 13 and 19 years.
The judge cannot order the Bureau of Prisons to comply but can make recommendations.
In a conference call with lawyers, Judge Chuang accepted the terms of the deal in principle and adjourned final sentencing until September. He did not indicate an exact sentence and gave leave to the parties to provide updated reports prior to his final decision.
The deal also mandates that Marques waives any right to appeal.
The investigation into Marques involved several sections of the FBI, including the violent crime section, the child exploitation operational unit and the violent crimes against children international task force. "Significant assistance" was provided from An Garda Síochána, Europol and the legal attaché in London, the US Department of Justice said.
Almost all the material depicted on the servers showed children engaged in sexually explicit conduct with adults or other children, or posed nude or undressed. A “substantial majority” of images depict prepubescent minors, prosecutors said.
Marques lived in New York until the age of five with his Brazilian father and Irish mother before moving to Ireland.
He was arrested in August 2013 at his apartment on Mountjoy Square in Dublin on foot of a formal request from the US. His extradition to the US was approved in 2015.
Lawyers for Marques argued he should be prosecuted in Ireland, where the maximum sentence is 14 years, and he offered to plead guilty on condition he was dealt with here. This was rejected by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
A series of appeals against the extradition lasted four years and went to the Supreme Court. These were all rejected and Marques was finally surrendered to the custody of US Marshals in March 2019.