Agents shut down the site in March 2018, though the story only surfaced Wednesday after the United States unsealed an indictment against its founder, 23-year-old Jong Woo Son. Son is currently serving 18 months in prison in South Korea after being convicted there; he was also indicted under seal in the U.S. last August on child pornography and money laundering charges. The bust subsequently led to the arrest of 337 people around the world and the rescue of at least 23 minor victims in the U.S., United Kingdom and Spain.
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According to the indictment, Son’s site, “Welcome to video,” distributed over 1 million videos, including more than 250,000 unique videos, 45 percent of which included images that were previously unknown to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Users could join the site for free and download videos, though they could also earn “points” by uploading videos and referring new users. A “VIP” account, that came with unlimited downloads for six months, was available for Bitcoin valued at $353, at least as of March 2018.
“Welcome to video” operated on the dark web, where encryption and cryptocurrencies have allowed child pornography and other illicit markets to flourish. British investigators at the National Crime Agency first uncovered the site while investigating a man now serving 25 years in prison, and eventually identified Son. Meanwhile, Agents from the IRS Criminal Investigation Division reportedly analyzed Bitcoin transactions to not only identify Son, but trace the location of the site’s server to his home in South Korea. Cryptocurrency analysis also allowed IRS agents to identify individual users on the site.
“Our agency’s ability to analyze the blockchain and de-anonymize Bitcoin transactions allowed for the identification of hundreds of predators around the world,” said Don Fort, chief of the Criminal Investigation Division. “The scale of this crime is eye-popping and sickening.”
The unsealed indictment included information about three dozen accused users, some of whom were reportedly former federal agents. Two users reportedly committed suicide after authorities issued search warrants against them. Civil forfeiture complaints have also been filed to seize 24 cryptocurrency accounts belonging to users accused of laundering money and possessing child pornography.
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