Florida Man Convicted of Engaging in Child Exploitation Enterprise
A federal jury today convicted a Naples, Florida, man of engaging in a child exploitation enterprise and related charges for creating and running a website dedicated to the sexual abuse of children.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose of the Western District of North Carolina; Special Agent in Charge John A. Strong of the FBI’s Charlotte, North Carolina, Division; Special Agent in Charge Harold H. Shaw of the FBI’s Boston Division; and Special Agent in Charge Paul Wysopal of the FBI’s Tampa, Florida, Division made the announcement.
Steven W. Chase, 57, was found guilty of one count of engaging in a child exploitation enterprise, one count of advertising child pornography, three counts of transportation of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography. The jury also returned a special verdict determining that Chase should be ordered to forfeit all property derived from, involved in, or traceable to his criminal activities, to include his Naples residence.
Evidence at trial established that Chase created and served as the primary administrator of a highly-sophisticated global enterprise dedicated to the sexual abuse of children, via a website that operated on the Tor anonymity network, through which he and more than 150,000 other members authored and viewed tens of thousands of postings involving child pornography. Images and videos shared through the website were highly categorized towards victim age and gender, as well as the type of sexual activity, according to trial evidence. Testimony at trial also established that website members employed advanced technological means in order to undermine law enforcement’s attempts to identify them, including the use of a hidden service on the Tor network and elaborate file encryption.
Chase was arrested following a court-authorized search of his home on Feb. 19, 2015. Forensic examination of a computer and devices seized pursuant to the search revealed that he was in possession of thousands of images depicting the sexual abuse of children as young as toddlers.
Chase’s co-defendants Michael Fluckiger, 46, of Portland, Indiana, and David Lynn Browning, 47, of Wooton, Kentucky, the co-administrator and global moderator of the website, respectively, pleaded guilty in December 2015 to engaging in a child exploitation enterprise for their roles in helping Chase run the website.
The FBI’s Violent Crimes Against Children Section, Major Case Coordination Unit and Digital Analysis and Research Center led the investigation, with assistance from the FBI’s Charlotte, Tampa and Boston Field Offices. Trial Attorney Reginald E. Jones of the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) and Assistant U.S. Attorney Cortney Randall of the Western District of North Carolina prosecuted the case.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and CEOS, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.justice.gov/psc.