Salling was arrested in Los Angeles in December and later released on bail.
Federal authorities charged him in a two-count indictment Friday, the Justice Department said in a statement.
“Those who download and possess child pornography create a market that causes more children to be harmed,” U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker said.
“Young victims are harmed every time an image is generated, every time it is distributed, and every time it is viewed.”
Investigators seized a laptop, a hard drive and a USB flash drive from Salling’s residence in December.
Those items contained thousands of images and videos depicting child pornography, according to the statement.
“The traditional stereotype about the kinds of people who commit child sexual exploitation crimes simply doesn’t dovetail with reality,” said Joseph Macias, a special agent for Homeland Security Investigations.
” As our investigators can attest, the defendants in child pornography cases come in all ages and from all walks of life.”
Macias said he hopes the case serves as a warning that those involved in online sexual exploitation of children will be prosecuted regardless of their position.
The Los Angeles Police Department and Homeland Security Investigations initially arrested Salling in December on state charges, and he was later released on bond.
Investigators referred the case to federal authorities because of his wide collection of child pornography, resulting in Friday’s indictment, the Justice Department said.
“These images are more than photographs, they are child abuse,” said Lt. Andrea Grossman, commander of the LAPD Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
Receiving child pornography carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in federal prison and a maximum sentence of 20 years, the Justice Department said. Possessing child pornography carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.
Salling plans to turn himself in to federal authorities on June 3, according to the Justice Department.
He is expected to be arraigned on that date. Salling’s attorney could not be immediately reached for comment.
Puck on ‘Glee’
Salling played Puck on “Glee” throughout the show’s six-season run from 2009 to 2015.
Puck, a football player on the McKinley High team, is initially resistant to the school’s glee club — seen as a haven for misfits. He later follows his best friend into the group.