U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez of the Eastern District of California sentenced a former member of PlayPen, a darknet child abuse forum, to 14 years in prison and 15 years on parole. Jason Sebastian Sparks, a 29-year-old from Oroville, California, had accessed the forum for just over three hours in 2015. The FBI had only taken control of the forum days before Sparks signed on to download videos depicting child abuse, court documents revealed. While they may not have known what Sparks had done on the forum before their involvement, the evidence they gathered during his single sign-on led to a successful conviction of child pornography.
Sparks, like the majority of the individuals caught in the FBI’s Operation Pacifier, spoke to the authorities about everything when confronted. After the 29-year-old had downloaded the illegal videos, California law enforcement searched his home for electronic devices and other forms of evidence. They found the computer Sparks had used to download the illegal videos. He admitted he had accessed PlayPen and that he had downloaded the videos in question. The FBI had evidence that Sparks had accessed the site for three hours and 13 minutes in early March 2015. And Sparks confirmed that the FBI’s evidence was solid.
Even though his 14-year prison sentence does not reflect it, Sparks also admitted to a “hands on abuser” crime. He told the investigators that he had abused a six-year-old child on five separate occasions. “Victims of child pornography aren’t just pixels on a screen,” the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Sacramento Field Office, Sean Ragan, said. “They are real children subject to horrific abuse. The internet may provide users with a veil of anonymity, but the FBI and our partners will overcome challenges to track down offenders and bring justice to innocent victims.”
During Operation Pacifier, the FBI used questionable tactics to take down the forum and the members of the site. The tactics were only questionable in some minds. The FBI considered the operation a success. Federal judges ruled that the FBI illegally hacked thousands of Tor users, including innocent users of Tor. The numbers reiterated in the Sparks case spoke for themselves. U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert, who announced the sentencing, said that the massive hack of international Tor users netted 350 U.S. arrests. Courts have convicted a total of 25 producers of child abuse pictures or videos. The number of convicted hands on abusers, the U.S. Attorney revealed, was higher: 51. Another 55 children have been “identified or rescued.”
Sparks received one of the lengthier prison sentences handed out following completion of Operation Pacifier. He will spend 14 years inside a prison cell and 15 years on supervised release.