ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Atlanta police knew seven years ago that a police sergeant's husband may have been paying young girls for sex and producing child pornography, but failed to investigate the allegations, federal authorities said.
Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington says any purported failure to take action "will not be tolerated."
Terrill Marion Crane, 47, was arrested Thursday by the FBI's Safe Child Task Force, according to David Nahmias, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia.
He faces a federal charge of producing child pornography "relating to photographs that depict his explicit sexual activity with numerous young girls," according to a statement from Nahmias' office.
If convicted, Crane could get up to 20 years in prison.
He appeared before a U.S. magistrate Friday afternoon, said Patrick Crosby, a spokesman for Nahmias' office. Crane is next set to appear at a bond hearing Wednesday.
Photographs from 1999 through 2002 -- which were recently obtained by the FBI -- show Crane engaged in sexual activity with at least 11 different minor girls, according to the criminal complaint filed in the case.
Other pictures found during a search last week show two more young girls.
Federal authorities believe Crane has been engaging in sex acts with young girls at his home and in his truck since at least 1999.
Only four of the girls have been identified so far, Nahmias said.
"The complaint indicates that Crane paid the girls based on the sex act they allowed him to perform and for getting other girls to engage in sex acts with him," he said. "We want to identify the other victims shown in the photographs and any additional girls who were sexually exploited."
An employee of a photo processing company alerted Atlanta police about Crane in 2000, saying he was concerned about photos he developed for him.
The pictures, including images of the 11 girls believed to be between the ages of 12 and 15, were given to police between 2000 and 2002 by the photo processing company, Nahmias said. They were not turned over to federal authorities, however, until last month.
In 2003, Crane's wife, Atlanta police Sgt. Tanya Crane, "allegedly got a call from an unidentified person at APD headquarters that APD had photographs of her husband engaged in sexually explicit conduct with young girls," said the statement from Nahmias' office.
"Crane's wife said she found some explicit photographs in her house and burned the photographs and negatives."
The allegations are "disturbing," said Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington.
"The alleged actions -- and any purported failure to take action -- will not be tolerated within the Atlanta Police Department," said Pennington, who took office in 2002.
"When the incident came to my attention in October, I immediately ordered a full inquiry and invited the FBI to assist with the investigation. People will be held accountable and responsible for their actions, or inactions, as the case may be."
Tanya Crane has been placed on administrative leave, Pennington said.
The FBI searched Crane's home November 20 and found undeveloped film, which was processed and showed Crane engaging in sexual activity with at least two girls, said the statement from Nahmias' office.
As late as June or July of this year, authorities said, "Crane told one of the girls he had sexually exploited several years ago that he was still interested in young girls and would pay her $50 for each young girl she provided to him."
Nahmias' office asked that anyone with information about the case contact the FBI at 404-679-9000.
The case drew criticism from the Rev. Markel Hutchins, an Atlanta civil rights activist.
"The latest scandal and apparent ethical deficiency in the Atlanta Police Department further displays deep-seated corruption, the culture of protectionism and a propensity to cover up criminal behavior," Hutchins said in a statement.
"The lack of action by the upper brass of the APD, who knew about this gross abuse of young girls, and the evident need for federal intervention to bring forth truth serves only to further erode public trust and confidence in police officers sworn to protect and serve."
Hutchins has served as a spokesman for the family of a 92-year-old woman fatally shot last year by police in a botched drug raid. Two former Atlanta officers have pleaded guilty to federal and state charges in the case, and a third faces charges. E-mail to a friend