17May, 2017

NC Man Sentenced for Running World’s Largest Child Porn Site
Posted By: Michael Schlossser

NC Man Sentenced for Running World's Largest Child Porn Site

Most law-abiding citizens don’t understand how extensive the child porn industry is – both throughout the country and the world. Or how much of the industry involves very young children – including toddlers.

However, the most shocking revelation for North Carolina citizens might be that — until about a month ago – the trial against the creator of the largest child-porn site in existence was happening right here in our home state.

Earlier this month, Steven W. Chase was sentenced to 30 years in prison and a lifetime of supervised release. What exactly did he do? Chase created a website called Playpen in 2014 that allowed members to communicate anonymously, uploading and exchanging tens of thousands of child porn videos. At the time when the FBI discovered the site, Playpen had 150,000 users around the world.

The FBI launched Operation Pacifier in January 2015 to track down these users. A month later, Chase was arrested. He had revealed the IP address of the site and investigators were able to track down the web-hosting facility to North Carolina. Chase operated the site from his home in Naples, Florida while working as the head of an excavation trucking company.

After Chase was arrested, the FBI took over the website. They sent thousands of leads to law enforcement agencies around the world. Over 870 of the site’s users worldwide have already been convicted, with 350 of these arrests being made in the United States. Other countries that have made arrests include Israel, Turkey, Peru, Malaysia, and Chile. Law enforcement officials around the world are still pursuing and prosecuting cases related to this investigation.

In addition to the arrests made through the investigation, almost 300 sexually abused children were rescued or identified around the world, with 55 of those children here in the United States.

What Are the Charges for Child Pornography in North Carolina?

What Are the Charges for Child Pornography in North Carolina

Steven W. Chase received his sentence after being tried in federal court. At the state level, however, North Carolina has a few different degrees of charges related to child pornography:

First Degree Sexual Exploitation of a Minor: This charge is the most serious state charge related to child pornography, and is pressed when an individual has intentionally produced child pornography by persuading, inducing, coercing, or knowingly allowing a child to engage in “child sexually abusive” activity. This charge is a Class C felony; penalties include 44-92 months in prison.

Second Degree Sexual Exploitation of a Minor: This charge is pressed when an individual participates in copying or distributing “child sexually abusive material.” The charge also applies to those who promote, conspire, or prepare any of this material for distribution. Second degree sexual exploitation of a minor is a Class E felony; penalties include 15-31 months in prison.

Third Degree Sexual Exploitation of a Minor: This charge is the least severe of child pornography charges, and applies to individuals who possess or seek to access child pornography. This charge is a Class H felony; penalties include 4-8 months in prison.

In all of the above cases, the offender will have to register as a sex offender, sometimes for the rest of their natural life, in the state of North Carolina. If the offender has previous convictions of child pornography on their criminal record, penalties will be significantly increased.

Charges may also be pressed if a computer technician, IT specialist, or film developer comes across child pornography and fails to report it to law enforcement. They do not have to actively seek it out, but if they see it, they are required to report it.

Remember, child pornography can also be a federal crime. If the federal government takes up a child pornography case, a conviction comes with more serious penalties. Federal child pornography convictions come with mandatory minimums – even simple possession of child pornography can put an offender behind bars for years.

What makes a case a federal one? Federal charges may result if the crime crosses state lines (something that almost always happens if the internet is involved) or is an especially serious case, like Chase’s.

Defenses against Child Pornography Charges

Defenses against Child Pornography Charges

One thing that you can’t argue is that you were unaware of the age of the victim or victims. Why? Because “mistake of age” is not a valid defense in our state. However, there are defense strategies available for individuals charged with child pornography.

Which strategy is the most appropriate one for you will depend upon the specific circumstances of your case. If you are arrested for child pornography or related sex crimes, reach out to a North Carolina defense attorney immediately.

About the Author:


Jan Elliott Pritchett
 is Managing Partner at the Law Firm of Schlosser & Pritchett and one of North Carolina’s top rated criminal defense attorneys. With a practice dedicated 100% to litigation, Mr. Pritchett protects the legal rights of clients who have been charged in federal and state criminal matters, as well as DUI/DWi, motor vehicle accidents, personal injury, and traffic violations. In practice since 1995, Mr. Pritchett has earned a reputation as a highly talented and fearless lawyer, being listed among the state’s “Legal Elite” and recognized as one of the Top 100 DWI Lawyers in North Carolina by the National Advocacy of DUI Defense.  He currently serves as the Co-Chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Legal Specialization, Criminal Law Specialty, and Vice-Chairman of the North Carolina Bar Association, Criminal Justice Section.