Feds bust massive 'dark web child porn marketplace,' announce 337 arrests of suspected site users

The South Korean operator of a child pornography website described as the "largest dark web child porn marketplace" has been indicted by a federal grand jury, the Department of Justice announced Wednesday.

Jong Woo Son, 23, was charged with nine counts -- including one count advertising child pornography, two counts distributing child pornography, and three counts of money laundering. Authorities also announced that 337 users of the site, known as Welcome to Video, had been arrested and charged. Those users resided in 23 states and the District of Columbia, as well as 11 countries.

“Darknet sites that profit from the sexual exploitation of children are among the most vile and reprehensible forms of criminal behavior,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division in a statement.

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“This Administration will not allow child predators to use lawless online spaces as a shield. Today’s announcement demonstrates that the Department of Justice remains firmly committed to working closely with our partners in South Korea and around the world to rescue child victims and bring to justice the perpetrators of these abhorrent crimes,” he added.

According to the indictment, on March 5, 2018, authorities from the United Kingdom and South Korea arrested Son and seized the server that he used to operate a Darknet market that exclusively advertised child sexual exploitation videos available for download. Son is currently serving his sentence in a South Korean prison.

This May 14, 2013, file photo shows the Department of Justice headquarters building in Washington early in the morning. (AP Photo/J. David Ake, File)

This May 14, 2013, file photo shows the Department of Justice headquarters building in Washington early in the morning. (AP Photo/J. David Ake, File)

Officials seized about eight terabytes of child sexual exploitation videos, one of the largest seizures of its kind. The images, which are being analyzed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, contained over 250,000 unique videos, and 45 percent of the videos currently analyzed contain new images that have not been previously known to exist.

The Justice Department reported that authorities had rescued at least 23 minors in the U.S., U.K., and Spain who were "being actively abused" by Welcome To Video users.

Welcome To Video offered these videos for sale using the cryptocurrency bitcoin, the Justice Department said, adding that the website is among the first of its kind to monetize child exploitation videos using bitcoin.

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“Children are our most vulnerable population, and crimes such as these are unthinkable,” said HSI Acting Executive Associate Director Alysa Erichs in a statement. “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. Our entire justice system will stop at nothing to prevent these heinous crimes, safeguard our children, and bring justice to all.”