Identification of Child Porn Site Creator Results in 900 Arrests Worldwide, Over 300 Children Rescued

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The identification and arrest of a child pornography site creator has resulted in nearly 900 arrests worldwide and over 300 children rescued, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has announced.

Steven Chase, 58, the operator of the now defunct site “Playpen,” was sentenced to 30 years behind bars earlier this month in a Charlotte courtroom. He will also be supervised following his release for the rest of his life and must forfeit his current home and any other property used in the illegal endeavor.

Chase had been arrested in February 2015 and charged with 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. He was found guilty by a jury trial in September.

His “Playpen” site, which reportedly had 150,000 users worldwide, was part of the “Tor anonymity network” and allowed pedophiles to upload and view tens of thousands of illicit images of children being sexually abused.

While users tried to hide their activity, in December 2014, Chase accidentally revealed his IP address, which was captured by a foreign law enforcement agency that in turn notified the FBI. Chase’s home was subsequently searched and thousands of images were discovered on his electronic devices.

His co-conspirators, Michael Fluckiger, 46, of Portland, Indiana, and David Lynn Browning, 47, of Wooton, Kentucky, were arrested as well.

In January 2015, the FBI, along with the Department of Justice’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, launched “Operation Pacifier” to bust the rest of site’s other thousands of users. It utilized a Network Investigative Technique (NIT) to decipher their IP addresses, which provided leads in every U.S. state, according to the government agency.

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The U.S. government also worked with law enforcement agencies in other countries, such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Italy Israel, Turkey, Peru, Malaysia, Chile, and the Ukraine. As a result, 350 U.S. users were arrested and 548 international users were also taken into custody.

55 children in the U.S. and 296 children worldwide were identified and/or rescued.

“The case—and the thousands of follow-up investigations it has launched—is unprecedented in its scope and reach,” the FBI said in a statement. “It represents the Bureau’s most successful effort to date against users of Tor’s hidden service sites. And it has opened new avenues for international cooperation in efforts to prosecute child abusers around the world.”

“Child predators use online forums on anonymous networks to abuse and exploit children, preying on the inexperienced and vulnerable in society. This pervasive and global problem demands an aggressive, technology-driven response,” also remarked Acting Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kenneth Blanco.

“The sentencing of the creator of the Playpen forum along with the identification, apprehension and prosecution of forum members around the country—sends a message that online predators will be caught and prosecuted,” he said. “While identifying and apprehending these criminals can be challenging, it is not impossible, and together with our domestic and foreign partners we will use every legal authority and technical tool we have to root out these predators and protect children from harm.”


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