Seventy-two people have been charged by federal law enforcement officials for their alleged involvement in an online child pornography ring.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Department Janet Napolitano announced the unsealing of three indictments and one complaining charging 72 individuals in an online ring that spanned five continents.

To date, 52 of the 72 charged have been arrested in the United States and abroad, The Washington Times reported.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, Operation Delego, as it is known, launched in December 2009. So far, 13 of the 52 have pleaded guilty and will serve terms ranging from 20 to 30 years in prison. They will also face a lifetime of supervised release.

The charged individuals were allegedly members of Dreamboard, a private message board of over 500 people who "promote pedophilia and encourage the sexual abuse of very young children, in an environment designed to avoid law enforcement detection," the Justice Department said. Allegedly, members were able to swap images and videos of adults molesting children 12 years old and under, often violently, and also "created a massive private library of images of child sexual abuse."

"As alleged in court documents, Dreamboard was a self-described global 'community' of pedophiles dedicated to the relentless victimization and exploitation of children 12 and under," Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said in a statement. "Using sophisticated methods to evade detection by law enforcement, Dreamboard members allegedly used the power and anonymity of the Internet to motivate each other to commit their horrific acts of sexual abuse of minors and trading in child pornography.

"The charges unsealed today show the department's continued commitment to a strategy of targeting the most sophisticated child exploitation networks, at home and abroad," Breuer added.  "No matter how savvy online predators think they are, we will find them, dismantle their networks, and bring them to justice."

Operation Delego represents the largest prosecution to date in the United States of person who participated in an online bulletin board and conceived and operated for the sole purpose of promoting child sexual abuse, disseminating child pornography and evading law enforcement.

"The members of this criminal network shared a demented dream to create the preeminent online community for the promotion of child sexual exploitation but for the children they victimized, this was nothing short of a nightmare," Mr. Holder said. "This operation marks another important step forward in our work to protect children across - and beyond - this country.

"Our nation's fight to protect the rights, interests, and safety of children goes on, and it will continue to be a top priority of this Justice Department," he said.

Napolitano said the operation was an example of the "good work" Homeland Security is doing through its principal investigative arm, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in cooperation with its domestic and international law enforcement partners.

"We take our responsibility to protect our children seriously, and this case is a prime example of how cooperation can bring real results," she said.