Steven W. Chase, the creator and admin of what may have been the largest child pornography website worldwide, has received a 30-year prison sentence.
His website ‘Playpen’ ran on the Tor network, a platform that caters to anonymous communication and criminal activity through “hidden service” websites. Members could upload and go through tens of thousands of child pornography media, all sorted by their age, gender, and sexual activity. Chase started the site in 2014 and had more than 150,000 users globally.
“We were only able to pull it off with a lot of support from our international partners and field offices,” said Special Agent Dan Alfin. He investigated the case as part of the Bureau’s Violent Crimes Against Children section.
Although the case for the FBI opened just after Playpen went live in 2014, “given the nature of how hidden services work, there was not much we could do about it [at the beginning]” Alfin recalled.
However, the situation took a turn in December 2014 when Chase himself accidentally revealed Playpen’s IP address. The address displayed a U.S. location, drawing the attention of a foreign law enforcement agency, and prompting them to involve the FBI.
“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,” said Alfin.
Chase received his sentence in North Carolina for his involvement in child exploitation and pornography. He wasn’t alone of course. His two co-defendants- Michael Fluckiger, 46, of Indiana, and David Browning, 47, of Kentucky, both admins for the website, received 20-year prison sentences this year. These were only the admins of Playpen- more needed to be done.
Operation Pacifier commenced through the partnership with the FBI and the Department of Justice Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section in January of 2015. Agents found IP addresses along with over a thousand national leads, which the FBI received. Partners overseas received thousands more, explained Alfin.
Europol, (the European Union’s law enforcement cooperation agency), Israel, Turkey, Peru, Malaysia, Chile, and Ukraine all reported arrests. Other participating international agencies include CNCPO Polizia Postale e Comunicazioni of Italian State Police, the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency, and New Zealand’s Department of Internal Affairs.
“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,” Alfin says.
According to the FBI, the website has been taken down, and as of May 4, 2017, this investigation has produced the following:
- At least 350 U.S.-based individuals arrested
- 25 producers of child pornography prosecuted
- 51 hands-on abusers prosecuted
- 55 American children successfully identified or rescued
- 548 international arrests, with 296 sexually abused children identified or rescued.
- there have been 900 arrested, and 296 children rescued.
Although Playpen has been gone for two years now, there is an unfortunate number of other websites continuing to exploit and abuse children.
“It’s ongoing and we continue to address the threat to the best of our abilities,” said Alfin. “It’s the same with any criminal violation: As they get smarter, we adapt, we find them. It’s a cat-and-mouse game, except it’s not a game. Kids are being abused, and it’s our job to stop that.”
Visit fbi.gov for the full news report.
What can YOU Do?
If you ever witness an incident involving child pornography, file a report on the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC)’s website at www.cybertipline.com , or call 1-800-843-5678.