Calif. Man Gets 14 Years In Prison For Receiving Child Pornography From The Dark Web

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Jason Sebastian Sparks, 29, of Oroville, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez to 14 years in prison, followed by 15 years of supervised release, for receipt of child pornography, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

U.S. Attorney Talbert stated: “This sentence sends a strong message to those who try to remain anonymous while committing child exploitation crimes on the Internet that no matter what techniques they use, they risk being caught and prosecuted. Law enforcement is continually developing new ways to detect such criminals and bring them to justice. My office is committed to protecting the most vulnerable members of our society and to working with our state, local, and federal law enforcement partners to prosecute those involved with the exploitation of children.”

“Victims of child pornography aren’t just pixels on a screen,” said Sean Ragan, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Sacramento Field Office. “They are real children subject to horrific abuse. The internet may provide users with a veil of anonymity, but the FBI and our partners will overcome challenges to track down offenders and bring justice to innocent victims.”

According to court documents, this case arose from an FBI undercover investigation into Playpen, a highly sophisticated, hidden website dedicated to the advertisement and distribution of child pornography that operated on the Tor network from August 2014 until March 2015. The Tor network offers users anonymity by concealing the actual Internet Protocol (IP) address of its users. In February 2015, the FBI seized the computer server hosting Playpen from a webhosting facility in North Carolina. Pursuant to a federal court order in the Eastern District of Virginia, the website operated under FBI supervision for a two-week period, during which the FBI collected information to identify users of Playpen.

Playpen had more than 150,000 members who created and viewed tens of thousands of postings related to the sexual abuse of children. Images and videos shared through the site were highly categorized according to victim age and gender, as well as the type of sexual abuse depicted in the various images. The site also included discussion forums that included tips for grooming children and avoiding detection by law enforcement.

During its investigation, the FBI determined that a user connected to an IP address operating at Sparks’ Oroville residence had accessed Playpen for approximately three hours and 13 minutes over a two-day period in March 2015. Investigators subsequently searched Sparks’ residence and seized a computer that Sparks used to download child pornography from the Tor network. In a statement to investigators, Sparks admitted to accessing Playpen and to using the Tor network to download child pornography. Sparks also admitted that he had previously sexually abused an approximately six-year-old child on five occasions.

As a result of the FBI’s operation, at least 350 U.S.-based individuals have been arrested nationwide, 25 producers of child pornography have been prosecuted, 51 alleged hands-on abusers have been prosecuted and 55 American children who were subjected to sexual abuse have been identified or rescued.