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'too flawed' Judge rejects plea deal for Irishman described as world's largest 'facilitator' of child abuse imagery

The judge criticised a provision of the plea deal that wouldn’t give Marques credit for six years he spent in custody in Ireland while fighting extradition.

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Eric Eoin Marques. Picture: Paddy Cummins/PCPhoto.ie

Eric Eoin Marques. Picture: Paddy Cummins/PCPhoto.ie

Eric Eoin Marques. Picture: Paddy Cummins/PCPhoto.ie

A federal judge in the US has said he wants a higher sentence for a man who authorities have described as the largest purveyor of child pornography in the world. 

Eric Eoin Marques (36) appeared before the US District Court in Maryland yesterday, eight years after he was first arrested following a Garda raid on his home in Dublin's Mountjoy Square.

There was a lengthy six-year legal battle against his extradition from Ireland until the Supreme Court finally ordered his removal to the US two years ago.

Marques pleaded guilty to the offences in February 2020, as part of a plea agreement, and admitted that between July 2008 and July 2013 he conspired to advertise child pornography by operating an anonymous web hosting service.

However, US District Judge Theodore Chuang is not bound by the terms of the Justice Department’s plea deal.

“It’s too flawed, and I also don’t agree with the outcome,” Chuang said, adding that he was inclined to give Marques a longer sentence.

Marques is entitled to withdraw his guilty plea from last year if the judge departs from the sentencing range prosecutors and defense attorneys recommended.

The judge criticised a provision of the plea deal that wouldn’t give Marques credit for six years he spent in custody in Ireland while fighting extradition after his 2013 arrest in Dublin.

Judge Chuang said he can’t tell the federal Bureau of Prisons to refrain from counting those years when Marques likely is entitled to get credit for that time.

The judge said he isn’t prepared to impose a sentence of 15 to 21 years if Marques does get credit for those six years.

“I want a sentence higher than that,” Judge Chuang added. “It’s not going to be 21 minus 6 to 15. That’s not going to happen. I don’t have to follow what you all did. It’s clear neither of you really understood what you were doing.”

Judge Chuang also expressed frustration that prosecutors and defense lawyers still couldn’t agree on certain facts of the case even after spelling them out in writing as part of the deal.

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“I certainly think the process was such that I shouldn’t defer to the parties’ agreement when I’m not sure they really thought it out that carefully,” he said.

Defense attorney Brendan Hurson told the judge that his remarks give them a “platform to negotiate further.”

“If we can’t get somewhere, then we would ask for some time to set a trial date,” Hurson said.

Judge Chuang adjourned proceedings until 25 June and said that if the matter was going to proceed to trial, it could be next year before the case would be heard.

Marques had offered shortly after his arrest in July 2013 to plead guilty to the charges he was facing if prosecuted in Ireland.

The penalties for the charges he faces would be significantly less in Ireland than in the US.

However, was extradited to the US by Irish authorities in March 2019.

FBI Special Agent Brooke Donahue has described Marques as “the largest facilitator of child pornography websites on the planet,” according to court records.

“He was trying to look for a place to reside to make it most difficult to be extradited to the United States,” the FBI agent said.

Marques operated a web hosting service on the darknet that allowed thousands of users to view and share child abuse images and videos, according to a court filing.

Marques, a dual citizen of the US and Ireland, was living in Ireland at the time of the alleged offences. The server that he allegedly used was in France.

The darknet is part of the internet but hosted within an encrypted network. It is accessible only through anonymity-providing tools, such as the Tor browser.

Marques created and operated a free, anonymous web hosting service, called “Freedom Hosting,” on a network allowing users to access websites without revealing their IP addresses.

In 2013, FBI agents in Maryland connected to the network and accessed a child abuse bulletin board with more than 7,700 members and more than 22,000 posts. Agents downloaded more than one million files from another website on the network, nearly all of which depicted sexually explicit images of children.

The offence draws a maximum sentence of 30 years but in pleading guilty, Marques agreed with prosecutors to a recommended sentence of 15 to 21 years.

While the recommendation does not include credit for the six years Marques spent behind bars in Ireland as he fought extradition, it was taken into account by prosecutors when calculating the offer made to the Dubliner.

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