• Jury finds Florida child porn kingpin guilty of running massive ‘darkweb' operation

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    CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A 57-year-old Naples man has been convicted in federal court of creating and primarily running the “Playpen” website, which shared tens of thousands of posts containing child pornography, the FBI said.

    Steven W. Chase was convicted in the case, which sources have called the largest FBI hacking investigation in history.

    The site was created in late 2014 and was operated on the anonymous TOR network, a now-public network initially created by the U.S. Navy as a means of protecting government communications, court documents said.

    Photo: Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office, North Carolina
    © 2018 Cox Media Group.

    “The TOR network – and the anonymity it provides – is a powerful tool for those who wish to share ideas and information, particularly those living in places where freedom of speech is not accorded the legal protection it is here,” the prosecution filing said. “But this anonymity has a downside.”

    More than 150,000 Playpen members shared thousands of child porn images, links and videos in the six months the site was operating, court documents say.

    In a move that would turn out to be highly controversial, when the FBI located and arrested Chase, and took over the site’s North Carolina server, agents left Playpen running for an additional 13 days.

    The move would allow investigators to use a hacking tool to track and attempt to locate anonymous users, prosecutors urged.

    In that time, though, 100,000 users logged into the site and shared 9,000 images, 200 videos and 13,000 links to child pornography, Chase’s attorneys argued in a motion to dismiss.

    Chase was arrested on Feb. 19, 2015, and investigators reported finding thousands of images depicting pornography involving children as young as toddlers on his personal computers.

    The government took over Chase’s Playpen site the next day.

    Chase’s co-defendants, Michael Fluckiger, of Portland, Indiana, and David Lynn Browning, 47, of Wooton, Kentucky, pleaded guilty in December 2015, to engaging in a child exploitation enterprise for their roles in helping run the site.

    Chase was convicted on charges of advertising child pornography, three counts of transportation of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography.

    The jury also ordered Chase to forfeit all property “derived from, involved in, or traceable to his criminal activities, to include his Naples residence,” a U.S. Department of Justice release said.

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