Tuesday, May 23, 2017

East Naples Man, ‘Playpen’ Child Porn Creator, Sentenced to 30 Years in Federal Prison

crime scene tape

“naplesHe created the site, “Playpen,” in August of 2014 on the Tor network…a network intended to allow users to conceal their identities by segregating routing and identification data. Using “onion” routing, information is encrypted and then randomly scattered through a series of nodes called onion routers.

Steven W. Chase, a 58-year-old resident of East Naples, created “Playpen” and attracted over 150,000 users worldwide.

The site consisted of tens of thousands of postings of child pornography. According to the F.B.I., the material was “indexed by age, sex, and the type of sexual activity involved.”

The F.B.I. became aware of the site early on, however, due to the nature of onion routing, was unable to obtain information about the site’s source or users.

The bureau was contacted in December 2014, by a foreign law enforcement agency, and told of a miscue by the site’s administrator. That “error” revealed Playpen’s unique IP address as well as the administrator’s location.

“From that point, we took normal investigative steps—seized a copy of the website, served search warrants for e-mail accounts, followed the money—and everything led back to Steven Chase,” stated F.B.I. Special Agent Dan Alfin.

Steven Chase was taken into custody on February 19, 2015. Forensic examinations of his home computer resulted in the discovery of “thousands of images depicting the sexual abuse of children as young as infants and toddlers,” according to a Department of Justice release.

FBI logo with steven chaseThe arrest, however, was merely the first domino in a chain that would result in 548 international arrests; 350 of which occurred in the United States.

Chase’s miscue also resulted in the arrests and prosecutions of 25 producers of child pornography, 51 child abusers, and led to the rescue of 55 American children exploited by those in the child pornography industry.

“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,” as noted by the Department of Justice.

“We were only able to pull it off with a lot of support from our international partners and field offices,” added Alfin.

Israeli law enforcement, Europol, Turkish, Peruvian, Malaysian, Chilean and Ukrainian agencies joined the posse. Additionally, CNCPO Polizia Postale e Comunicazioni of Italian State Police, the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency, and New Zealand’s Department of Internal Affairs contributed great efforts and made arrests.

The investigations, arrests and prosecutions continue. “Members of his enterprise who were raping children, who were producing child pornography all around the world…those cases continue to be indicted and prosecuted,” remarked Agent Dan Alfin.

The newly obtained information additionally led the F.B.I. to Michael Fluckiger, 46, of Indiana, and David Browning, 47, of Kentucky.

Fluckiger, sentenced on January 12, 2017 and Browning, sentenced on February 7, 2017, each received 20-year sentences for their roles as co-administrators.

Steven W. Chase sat inside a federal courtroom in North Carolina awaiting sentencing. With the assistance of U.S. District Judge Richard L. Voorhees of the Western District of North Carolina, Chase exited the courtroom toting a 30-year prison sentence for his role in “Playpen.”

“Chase was the mastermind and gatekeeper of Playpen, a hidden, members-only Internet platform and a safe-haven for those looking to view and trade child pornography without detection. The depiction of the horrendous sexual exploitation of innocent and vulnerable children is a crime my office takes very seriously,” shared U.S. Attorney Westmoreland Rose. “Today’s sentence delivers a clear message that the dark web is not a safe place for those looking to possess, receive and share child pornography: this type of criminal activity will land you in jail for a long time.”

“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,” stated Acting Assistant Attorney General 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. 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.”


© 2017 Naples Herald. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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