HOUSTON -- A Texas man behind a worldwide e-mail ring that traded pornographic images of children, some as young as 18 months old, was sentenced to the maximum of 30 years in federal prison Friday.
"I'm sorry for the children in the pictures," Mark Bates, 33, of Palestine said. "I was using the pictures so I wouldn't go out and hurt anyone. I wasn't thinking there was actually a person behind the pictures."
Bates pleaded guilty to trafficking in child pornography via computer. He was the moderator of the "Candyman" e-mail group that served more than 6,000 users, who were expected to contribute images as well as receive them. More than 80 people in 26 states were arrested in the case last March.
Defense attorney David Cunningham argued against the maximum, citing evidence that Bates himself was a victim of sexual abuse several times before age 11.
But the scope of Bates' Internet groups, the nature of the material, Bates' two molestation convictions and a confession in psychiatric records that he sexually abused about 30 children -- and possibly as many as 100 -- led the judge to impose the harshest penalty under law.
"It is the only sure way to safeguard children from this sexual predator," U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon said.
Two suburban Houston men arrested because of their involvement with the Candyman e-mail group were sentenced in the same hearing. Robert Froman, 49, got 15 years. Billy Loyd White, 46, who pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography, received about four years.
Froman's sentence was increased by Interpol's discovery of a video clip in Europe showing Froman having sex with his young daughter.
Prosecutor Jim Buchanan said the video and more than 500 posed images of Froman's daughter probably will keep being viewed and traded indefinitely over the Internet.
"In this time of year where fathers bestow gifts on their children, he has taken a child's life away," Buchanan said.