A member of a highly sophisticated, global child exploitation enterprise dedicated to the sexual exploitation of children was sentenced to prison today.
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.
Michael Fluckiger, 46, of Portland, Indiana, was sentenced to 240 months in prison for engaging in a child exploitation enterprise, along with lifetime supervised release. U.S. District Judge Richard L. Voorhees of the Western District of North Carolina imposed the sentence. Fluckiger pleaded guilty on December 2, 2015 and has remained in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service since his arrest on March 4, 2015.
According to admissions made in connection with the plea, Fluckiger acted as the co-administrator of a highly-sophisticated global enterprise dedicated to the sexual exploitation of children, organized via a members-only 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 relating to sexual abuse of children as young as infants and toddlers. According to admissions, Fluckiger was heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of the website – including managing membership, developing and enforcing strict rules and deleting website content that did not depict or discuss child pornography. In addition, Fluckiger admitted 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 anonymity network and elaborate file encryption.
On Sept. 16, 2016, a federal jury convicted co-defendant and lead administrator of the site, Steven W. Chase, 57, of Naples, Florida, of engaging in a child exploitation enterprise and related charges. A sentencing date for Chase has not yet been set. Co-defendant and global moderator of the site, David Lynn Browning, 47, of Wooton, Kentucky, pleaded guilty on December 18, 2015, and is scheduled to be sentenced on February 7, 2017.
As a result of the ongoing investigation, at least 48 alleged hands-on abusers have been prosecuted and 49 American children who were subjected to sexual abuse have been successfully identified or rescued.
The FBI’s Violent Crimes Against Children Section, Major Case Coordination Unit and Digital Analysis and Research Center investigated the case 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.