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St. Petersburg College computer student accused of building, operating child porn site

ST. PETERSBURG — Authorities accuse Gary Lee Peel of doing more than looking at child pornography and downloading explicit videos off the Internet.

The St. Petersburg College computer engineering student also built his own Web site, authorities said, so that he could share those graphic images with others.

Now the site is offline, and Peel is in the Pinellas County Jail.

The Web site is believed to be the first child pornography online operation based in the Tampa Bay area to be shut down by the Florida Attorney General's Tampa CyberCrime Task Force.

Peel was awoken at 8 a.m. Tuesday by a state task force that raided his St. Petersburg apartment, seized his computers and placed him under arrest.

"He was shocked, to say the least," said Detective Amanda Westerman, who is with the St. Petersburg Police Department's crimes against children unit.

Investigators said they next will target anyone who used Peel's Web site to view or download illegal images.

That's what makes this case especially egregious, Westerman said. Downloading and viewing child pornography wasn't enough for Peel, she said; he had to make it easy for others to do the same.

"I can't say why someone would take that extra step to host a Web site so other people can view the same things that person partakes in," she said.

Peel appeared first on the radar of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. It reported to local authorities that it had tracked someone in the area uploading a video depicting child pornography to a video-sharing Web site.

The task force used subpoenas to get closer to Peel. It obtained the IP, or Internet protocol, address — a specific number assigned to a computer in a network — of the computer that uploaded those videos from an Internet service provider. That led investigators to Peel, the detective said, and that led them to his Web site.

"It was accessible and available to the public," Westerman said. "Any child looking at SpongeBob SquarePants could have looked at this Web site."

Peel, 19, of 545 77th Ave. N, was arrested on two counts of promoting child pornography and 20 counts of possession of child pornography. He was in his third semester at St. Petersburg College, police said.

Using a search warrant, investigators said they seized hundreds of images of child pornography from Peel's home. They also said they seized two computers and other electronics. Many of the images depicted children as young as infants, they said.

Authorities said Peel didn't operate his Web site for profit. But he did require those who wanted to access it to contact him. That's how investigators said they'll track down anyone else who accessed the Web site.

"That's why this is a big case," Westerman said. "It has the potential to save a lot of children."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

St. Petersburg College computer student accused of building, operating child porn site 08/25/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 25, 2009 10:52pm]
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