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Spanky the clown arrested on porn charges

From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau

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Thomas Allen Riccio appears in character as "Spanky" before a performance in Florida last year.
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The charges stem from a child pornography investigation.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Spanky, a clown with the renowned Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, has been arrested on charges stemming from a child pornography investigation, law enforcement officials said Tuesday.

Spanky, whose real name is Thomas Allen Riccio, 23, of Jacksonville, Florida, made an initial state court appearance Monday in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where he was traveling with the circus, the officials said.

He faces 10 counts of third degree sexual exploitation of a minor.

The arrest Friday was the latest in an ongoing international probe of subscribers to a child pornography Web site that was shut down in an international raid last July.

U.S. Customs agents leading the investigation worked with North Carolina authorities in making the arrest, officials said.

Teachers, camp counselors and others with access to children have been high on the priority list for customs officials.

Agents have arrested hundreds of people in recent months, after obtaining tens of thousands of names from a credit card billing company allegedly involved in handling payments for Internet porn sites.

The investigation, dubbed Operation Predator, linked Riccio to a company in Belarus that provided the billing services for more than 50 child porn Web sites worldwide, officials said.

In announcing the arrest, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that when agents searched Riccio's computer, they discovered "thousands of images, many of which involve prepubescent children engaged in various sexual and lewd acts."

"This man's profession as Spanky the clown brought him into contact with hundreds of families," said agent Albert Fitchett Jr. in Wilmington, North Carolina.

"Behind the clown nose, however, this man appears to have been supporting an industry that trades in the exploitation of children."


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