Men ran a global child porn dark web site that was a ‘haven’ for 72,000 users, feds say

The creator of a global child exploitation website — which operated on the dark web and reached 72,000 registered users at its height — has been sentenced to 35 years in prison, according to federal prosecutors.

Patrick Falte, a 29-year-old from Franklin, Tennessee, was sentenced Friday after he was convicted of engaging in a child exploitation enterprise, advertising child pornography and distributing child pornography, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a news release Monday.

Prosecutors called Falte the “lead administrator of a highly sophisticated Tor-network-based website dedicated to the sexual abuse of children,” adding that he created the website “the Giftbox Exchange” in 2015 — paying for its operation using Bitcoin and hosting it on “a Tor hidden service, meaning it could only be accessed by users through the Tor anonymity network.”

Prosecutors said Falte “established rules that required users to upload and share images and videos depicting pre-teen children being sexually abused before they could access the site.”

Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said in a statement that “the Giftbox Exchange proved a haven for sophisticated predators to produce and spread deplorable depictions of child sexual abuse.”

U.S. District Judge Waverly Crenshaw of the Middle District of Tennessee last week sentenced three other men who were convicted in the child exploitation enterprise — 35 years in prison for 28-year-old Benjamin Faulkner, of Ontario, Canada; 30 years for 24-year-old Andrew Leslie of Middleburg, Florida; and 20 years for Brett Bedusek, of Cudahy, Wisconsin, prosecutors said.

Each man also faces a lifetime sentence of supervised release, according to the Justice Department. Falte and the three others pleaded guilty to the charges last year.

U.S. Attorney Don Cochran for the Middle District of Tennessee said in a statement that “we will continue to hunt down the evil and abominable like-minded individuals who delight in abusing children and will bring them to justice.”

Prosecutors said the site was broken down into a variety of forums for different sorts of child porn content, “categorized by age range of the minor victims — including a sub forum for ‘Babies & Toddlers.’” When the site was shut down in 2016, it already had 56,000 posts and more than 72,000 users, according to the Justice Department.

Prosecutors said Faulkner, the Canadian man, was a Giftbox Exchange administrator and also “created and administered another Tor network-based hidden service website dedicated to child sexual exploitation, which grew to host over 200,000 users,” while Leslie, the Florida man, “ran yet another Tor network-based hidden service website, which explicitly allowed images and videos depicting graphic and violent sexual abuse of children.”

The Justice Department said Bedusek, the Wisconsin man, was “a VIP member of Giftbox Exchange which gave him access to a special area of the site.”

Faulkner and Falte were sentenced to life in prison in 2017 in a Virginia federal court on charges that they sexually abused a toddler they found through Giftbox Exchange, prosecutors said, while Leslie was sentenced to 60 years in prison in 2018 in a Florida federal court on charges that he sexually abused multiple children.

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Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.