SALT LAKE CITY — Hundreds of individuals, including two Utah men, have been charged worldwide in a takedown of the “largest darknet child pornography website,” according the U.S. Department of Justice.
A nine-count indictment unsealed Wednesday revealed South Korean national Jong Woo Son, 23, was indicted by a federal grand jury in D.C. for his operation of “Welcome to Video,” the largest child sexual exploitation market by volume of content, according to the DOJ.
Authorities in South Korea searched his home in March of 2018 and found the server for “Welcome to Video,” along with electronic storage media associated with the website in Son’s bedroom, court documents show.
Son was indicted on Aug. 8, 2018, on various counts, including conspiracy to distribute child pornography according to court documents.
Son was convicted and is currently serving his sentence in South Korea, according to the DOJ. The site was funded by bitcoin payments.
“Children around the world are safer because of the actions taken by U.S. and foreign law enforcement to prosecute this case and recover funds for victims,” U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu said in a statement. “We will continue to pursue such criminals on and off the darknet in the United States and abroad, to ensure they receive the punishment their terrible crimes deserve.”
An additional 337 site users were also arrested and charged in the case, including two from Utah.
Nikolas Bennion Bradshaw, 26, of Bountiful, was charged in Davis County’s 2nd District Court in August 2018 with five counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, second-degree felonies, court documents show.
On Aug. 9, 2018, a federal search warrant found five images of child pornography on Bradshaw’s phone, according to a police affidavit.
Bradshaw was sentenced to time served with 91 days in jail followed by probation, according to the DOJ.
Michael Don Gibbs, 37, of Holladay, was charged in December of 2018 in U.S. District Court for the District of Utah with receipt of child pornography and possession of child pornography, court documents show.
A jury trial is scheduled for Gibbs for Jan. 6, 2020, according to court documents.
Other site users lived in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington State and Washington, D.C. as well as the United Kingdom, South Korea, Germany, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Czech Republic, Canada, Ireland, Spain, Brazil and Australia, the DOJ stated.
“Children are our most vulnerable population, and crimes such as these are unthinkable,” wrote Homeland Security Investigations Acting Executive Associate Director Alysa Erichs. “Sadly, advances in technology have enabled child predators to hide behind the dark web and cryptocurrency to further their criminal activity.”
“However, today’s indictment sends a strong message to criminals that no matter how sophisticated the technology or how widespread the network, child exploitation will not be tolerated in the United States,” Erichs stated in a news release. “Our entire justice system will stop at nothing to prevent these heinous crimes, safeguard our children, and bring justice to all.”
A forfeiture complaint was also unsealed Wednesday that alleges that law enforcement were able to trace payments of bitcoin to the darknet site by “following the flow of funds on the blockchain,” the DOJ release stated.
The virtual currency accounts named in the complaint were allegedly used by 24 individuals in five countries to fund the website and promote child exploitation, the release stated.
The forfeiture complaint seeks to recover those funds and return them to victims of the crime, DOJ officials stated in the release.