Federal officials announced Wednesday the arrest of 52 people allegedly connected to an international child exploitation network with ties to the Acadiana area.

Attorney General Eric Holder and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced Wednesday the unsealing of three indictments and one complaint charging a total of 72 individuals for their participation in an international criminal network dedicated to the sexual abuse of children, as well as the creation and dissemination of graphic images and videos of child sexual abuse throughout the world, according to a news release.

Operation Delego, an ongoing investigation that was launched in December 2009, targeted the 72 charged defendants and more than 500 additional individuals around the world for their participation in Dreamboard — a private, members-only, online bulletin board that was created and operated to promote pedophilia and encourage the sexual abuse of very young children, in an environment designed to avoid law enforcement detection, the release said.

To date, 52 of the 72 charged defendants have been arrested in the United States and abroad, the release said.

Members traded graphic images and videos of adults molesting children 12 years old and under, often violently, and collectively created a massive private library of images of child sexual abuse, the release said.

The international group prized and encouraged the creation of new images and videos of child sexual abuse — numerous Dreamboard members sexually abused children, produced images and videos of the abuse, and shared the images and videos with other members of Dreamboard, according to the release.

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

“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,” Holder said in the release “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.”

According to court documents filed in the Western District of Louisiana and elsewhere, Dreamboard members employed a variety of measures designed to conceal their criminal activity from detection by law enforcement, the release said.

Membership was tightly controlled by the administrators of the bulletin board, who required prospective members to upload child pornography portraying children 12 years of age or younger when applying for membership, the release said. Once they were given access, members were required continually to upload images of child sexual abuse in order to maintain membership. Members who failed to follow this rule would be expelled from the group, the release said.

U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley will hold a news conference at 4 p.m. Wednesday in Lafayette to further discuss the case.