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DV Pilot Police & Fire

Feds Smash World's Largest Dark Web Child Porn Network By Following Bitcoin Trail

"Welcome to Video" was one of the first websites of its kind to monetize exploitation videos of infants, toddlers and other children, "one of the worst forms of evil imaginable," one federal prosecutor said.
"Welcome to Video" was one of the first websites of its kind to monetize exploitation videos of infants, toddlers and other children, "one of the worst forms of evil imaginable," one federal prosecutor said. Photo Credit: COURTESY: U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT

Federal authorities have smashed the world’s largest dark web child porn marketplace, arresting a whopping 337 people around the world – some of them in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut -- all thanks to bitcoin.

To sniff out the network, investigators used a unique strategy.

"Welcome to Video" was one of the first websites of its kind to monetize exploitation videos of infants, toddlers and other children, "one of the worst forms of evil imaginable," one federal prosecutor said.

The network used bitcoin because of the difficulty in tracing it, the Justice Department said in a complaint on file in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

Federal agents followed the flow of virtual currency, however, discovering 24 people in five countries who funded the website – and, in doing so, promoted child exploitation, the complaint says.

The site, they soon learned, “boasted over one million downloads of child exploitation videos by users,” the Justice Department said in a release.

It also had more than one million bitcoin addresses, “signifying that the website had capacity for at least one million users.”

The most important outcome of the international operation was the rescue of “at least 23 minor victims residing in the United States, Spain and the United Kingdom who were being actively abused by the users of the site,” the Justice Department said.

In addition, a forfeiture complaint filed by the government seeks to recover the millions of dollars collected by the network to be given to the victims.

At the top of the chain, which stretched across a dozen countries, is Jong Woo Son, a 23-year-old South Korean national whom federal prosecutors identified as Welcome to Video's administrator.

Son, who is already serving a prison sentence for his crimes in his native South Korea, had an indictment returned against him by a federal grand jury unsealed on Wednesday. There was no immediate word on whether the Justice Department would try to extradite him.

Of the 337 other defendants arrested and charged, 53 were in the United States.

Among them:

  • Nader Hamdi Ahmed , 29, of Jersey City, was sentenced to 78 months in prison earlier this year after pleading guilty to distributing child pornography;
  • Andrew C. Chu , 28, of Garwood, is awaiting trial after being arrested and charged with receipt of child pornography;
  • Vincent Galarzo , 28, of Glendale, Queens, is awaiting trial after being arrested and charged in the District of Columbia with conspiracy to distribute child pornography;
  • Mark Lindsay Rohrer , 38, of West Hartford, CT, was sentenced to serve 60 months in prison followed by five years of supervised release for receiving child pornography.

Agents from the IRS-CI, HSI, National Crime Agency in the United Kingdom and Korean National Police in South Korea arrested Son and seized the server that the Justice Department said he used to operate a Darknet market that “exclusively advertised child sexual exploitation videos available for download by members of the site.”

Collected from the server were eight terabytes of child sexual exploitation videos, one of the largest seizures of its kind, federal authorities said.

“The images, which are currently being analyzed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), contained over 250,000 unique videos,” the Justice Department release says.

Nearly half have been found to contain new images that previously weren’t known to exist, it adds.

“The agencies have shared data from the seized server with law enforcement around the world to assist in identifying and prosecuting customers of the site,” the Justice Department said.

Arrested and charged as a result were 337 site users residing in 23 states, the district and 11 other countries:  United Kingdom, South Korea, Germany, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Czech Republic, Canada, Ireland, Spain, Brazil and Australia.

Two of those users committed suicide, federal authorities said.

“Darknet sites that profit from the sexual exploitation of children are among the most vile and reprehensible forms of criminal behavior,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Today’s announcement demonstrates that the Department of Justice remains firmly committed to working closely with our partners in South Korea and around the world to rescue child victims and bring to justice the perpetrators of these abhorrent crimes.”

According to the Justice Department release issued Wednesday:

The cases are being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Zia M. Faruqui, Lindsay Suttenberg, and Youli Lee, Paralegal Specialists Brian Rickers and Diane Brashears, Legal Assistant Jessica McCormick, and Records Examiner Chad Byron of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and Trial Attorney C. Alden Pelker of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section.

Additional assistance has been provided by Deputy Chief Keith Becker and Trial Attorney James E. Burke IV of the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, and former U.S. Attorney’s Office Paralegal Specialists Toni Anne Donato and Ty Eaton.

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