FEDS: Florida Man Sentenced For Running ‘Massive’ Child Porn Site ‘Playpen’

0
1455
WFTV

The creator and lead administrator of Playpen, a highly sophisticated website dedicated to the sexual abuse of children which operated on the Tor anonymity network, was sentenced today for his role in this global child exploitation enterprise.

Steven W. Chase, 58, of Naples, Florida, was sentenced to 30 years in prison, along with a lifetime term of supervised release, and was ordered to forfeit his residence in Naples by U.S. District Judge Richard L. Voorhees of the Western District of North Carolina. On Sept. 16, 2016, a federal jury found Chase guilty of one count of engaging in a child exploitation enterprise, one count of advertising child pornography, three counts of transportation of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography. The jury also returned a special verdict determining that Chase should be ordered to forfeit all property derived from, involved in, or traceable to his criminal activities, to include his Naples residence.

Evidence at trial established that beginning in August 2014, Chase created the Playpen website as a Tor hidden service, which only permitted individuals operating on the Tor anonymity network to access the site. Evidence at trial further established that Chase served as lead administrator of Playpen, through which he and more than 150,000 other members authored and viewed tens of thousands of postings involving the sexual abuse of children. Images and videos shared through the website were highly categorized towards victim age and gender, as well as the type of sexual activity, according to trial evidence. Testimony at trial also established that in addition to use of the Tor anonymity network, website members employed other advanced technological means in order to thwart law enforcement’s efforts, including elaborate file encryption.

As lead administrator of the website, trial evidence demonstrated that Chase: chose the name of the website; selected and made payments to the website hosting company; regularly updated the website with new features and security fixes; promoted several members of the website to Administrator and Moderator status to assist with the administration of the criminal enterprise; and spent hundreds of hours logged in to the website – personally authoring hundreds of postings.

Chase was arrested following a court-authorized search of his home on Feb. 19, 2015. Forensic examination of a computer and devices seized pursuant to the search revealed that he was in possession of thousands of images depicting the sexual abuse of children as young as infants and toddlers.

Chase’s co-defendants Michael Fluckiger, 46, of Portland, Indiana, and David Lynn Browning, 47, of Wooton, Kentucky, the co-administrator and global moderator of the website, respectively, pleaded guilty in December 2015 to engaging in a child exploitation enterprise for their roles in helping Chase run the website. On Jan. 12, 2017, Fluckiger was sentenced to 240 months in prison for engaging in a child exploitation enterprise, along with lifetime supervised release. On Feb. 7, 2017, Browning was sentenced to 240 months in prison for engaging in a child exploitation enterprise, along with a lifetime term of supervised release.

Following Chase’s arrest, the FBI obtained approval from a federal court to deploy a Network Investigative Technique (NIT) to pierce through the anonymity provided by the Tor network and obtain IP address and other basic, computer-related information to help locate and identify the users of the website Chase created. The FBI subsequently issued investigative leads to offices in every U.S. State. As a result of the ongoing investigation, at least 350 U.S.-based individuals have been arrested, 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 successfully identified or rescued.

International lead information was coordinated through EUROPOL’s European Cybercrime Center (EC3), who received and disseminated information through its network of member states, and the FBI Legal Attaché network. The ongoing international investigation has yielded at least 520 arrests and the successful identification and rescue of at least 186 children who were subjected to sexual abuse.