DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson highlighted the complete results of one of the largest online child exploitation investigations in the history of ICE, involving victims in 39 states and five countries.
Fourteen men operating a child pornography website on the Darknet’s Onion Router, also known as Tor, have been arrested and charged as part of a conspiracy to operate a child exploitation enterprise, following an extensive international investigation by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and USPIS. Eleven have been federally charged in the Eastern District of Louisiana and three in other districts. All are in federal custody.
So far, investigators have identified 251 minor victims in 39 states and five foreign countries. All victims have been contacted by law enforcement and U.S. victims offered support services from HSI victim assistance specialists.
The website’s primary administrator has been charged with operating a child exploitation enterprise. He admitted to creating multiple fake female personas on popular social networks to target and sexually exploit children and to coaching other child predators in his inner circle to do the same. He’s been in federal custody since his arrest June 13, 2013, and faces 20 years to life in prison.
“Never before in the history of this agency have we identified and located this many minor victims in the course of a single child exploitation investigation,” said ICE Deputy Director Daniel Ragsdale. “Our agency is seeing a growing trend where children are being enticed, tricked and coerced online by adults to produce sexually explicit material of themselves. While we will continue to prioritize the arrest of child predators, we cannot arrest our way out of this problem: education is the key to prevention.”
The underground website was a hidden service board on the Tor network and operated from about June 2012 until June 2013, at which time the site contained more than 2,000 videos and had more than 27,000 members.
The website shared webcam-captured videos of mostly juvenile boys enticed by the operators of the site to produce sexually explicit material. Tor enables online anonymity, directing Internet traffic through a volunteer network consisting of thousands of relays to conceal a user’s location.
More than 300 investigations have been opened into potential subscribers of the website: 150 in the United States and 150 overseas. Investigators anticipate ongoing arrests and additional identification of victims as they continue to examine and analyze the more than 40 terabytes of data seized.