An administrator of Playpen – the notorious dark-web trading post of child sex abuse material – has been jailed for 20 years and faces a lifetime of parole.
Michael Fluckiger, 46, of Portland, Indiana, was arrested on March 4, 2015 and pled guilty to helping run the Playpen website, which was taken over by the FBI and used to ensnare other perverts. Fluckiger was sentenced to 240 months behind bars, along with lifetime supervised release, for engaging in a child exploitation enterprise.
Fluckiger, along with two co-conspirators, ran Playpen from servers located in Lenoir, North Carolina from August 2014 to February 2015. According to a statement [PDF] by an FBI agent, Fluckiger was heavily involved in running the site, including removing material that was hosted on servers that were considered unsafe, setting up logo competitions for child abuse images, and encouraging users to create more original content.
The FBI was able to find him due to his involvement with a separate child abuse website, on which he revealed his first name and related his role as administrator of Playpen. Tracing the IP address used in those posts led the Feds to Fluckiger.
Subsequent checks found that he had been convicted of molesting a nine-year-old girl in 1993. He received four years probation for that, but now has 20 years to mull over his crimes in a prison population that is notoriously unfriendly to those who abuse children.
His two associates have yet to be sentenced, but can expect similarly long jail terms when they come before a judge next month. In December of 2015 David Lynn Browning, 47, of Wooton, Kentucky, pled guilty to similar charges and last September a jury found Steven Chase, 57, of Naples, Florida, guilty of engaging in a child exploitation enterprise and related charges.
The Playpen case has caused a legal brouhaha for the FBI, given its conduct in the case. After taking over Playpen's servers, the Feds ran the site for two weeks and tried to use a network investigative technique (NIT – tracking software) to identify users.
Over 200 members of the site were identified in this way, but at least one has been allowed to walk away after the FBI refused to reveal the code it had used to identify Tor users. Cases have also run into problems because the FBI sought only one warrant to hack hundreds of people, which was of dubious legality at the time, but has since been codified in law as permissible.
Given that the site had over 150,000 members, it appears the NIT wasn't that productive, and there are still a lot of perverts getting away with enabling and encouraging child abuse.
However, the Playpen case has also identified 49 children who were pictured on the site, located, and rescued. ®