York County man charged in connection with Montana-based child pornography sharing network

Posted April 13, 2014, at 12:26 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — A York County man was charged last week in connection with a Montana-based network that allegedly shared child pornography with others around the country on Internet bulletin boards, one of which required members to post images and videos of girls between the ages of 4 and 15.

John O. Merchberger III, 46, of Dayton is one of eight people named in an 18-page complaint filed Tuesday under seal in U.S. District Court in Missoula, Mont. It was unsealed Friday, the day U.S. District Judge George Singal ordered Merchberger be held without bail and transferred to Montana.

Merchberger and others allegedly posted preview images, or screenshots, of videos with links of urls where the video could be downloaded and viewed, the complaint said.

He is charged with one count each of: conspiracy to advertise child pornography; conspiracy to distribute child pornography; conspiracy to receive child pornagraphy; and conspiracy to access with the intent to view child pornography, according to the complaint.

Merchberger originally was charged March 7 in federal court in Portland with possession of child pornography. He was released five days later on $5,000 unsecured bond. A motion to dismiss that charge was filed Wednesday when he was arrested on the new charges.

Others charged in the same complaint are: Ryan Hatfield, Tony Gustafson, Daniel Brown, Richard Pitts, Shawnston Beaudoin, David Woods and Marc Edoria. Gustafson and Beaudoin appeared last week in federal courts in Omaha, Neb., and Atlanta, Ga., respectively, according to information filed on the court’s electronic case filing system. Information about the other defendants was not available Sunday.

The investigation that led to the charges began in spring 2013, the complaint said. In July, investigators interviewed Paul Wencewicz, 48, of Poison, Mont. That led to charges against Wencewicz and 13 other individuals filed last year in federal court in Montana in a case separate from the one in which Merchberger was charged.

Wencewicz pleaded guilty on March 24 in Missoula, Mont., to conspiracy to advertise child pornography. In exchange for his plea and cooperation with investigators, one count each of being involved in a child exploitation enterprise and obstruction of justice will be dropped. He is scheduled to be sentenced in July.

If convicted, Merchberger and the others face between 15 and 30 years in federal prison on the most serious charge of conspiring to advertise child pornography.

 

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