A Mesquite man was among four Texas residents arrested in a worldwide takedown of the largest dark web child pornography website, Welcome To Video. 

Eliseo Arteaga Jr., 28, of Mesquite, pleaded guilty in the Northern District of Texas to possession of prepubescent child pornography. He is pending sentencing.

The other three Texas residents arrested in this worldwide bust include Michael Ezeagbor, 22, of Pflugerville, who was arrested and charged in the District of Columbia with conspiracy to distribute child pornography.

Richard Nikolai Gratkowski, 40, of San Antonio, a former Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agent, was arrested in the Western District of Texas. Gratkowski pleaded guilty to one count of receipt of child pornography and one count of access with intent to view child pornography. He was sentenced to 70 months in prison followed by 10 years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $35,000 in restitution to seven victims and a $10,000 assessment; and Paul Casey Whipple, 35, of Hondo, a U.S. Border Patrol Agent, was arrested in the Western District of Texas, on charges of sexual exploitation of children/minors, production, distribution, and possession of child pornography. Whipple remains in custody awaiting trial in San Antonio.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, hundreds were charged in this case, and dozens of minor victims who were being actively abused by the users of the site were rescued.

The Department of Justice stated in a press release that Welcome To Video is the largest child sexual exploitation market by volume and content. The site was operated by South Korean National Jong Woo Son, 23, who was indicted by a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia.

The nine-count indictment was unsealed on Oct. 16, along with a parallel civil forfeiture action. 

According to the press release, Son has also been charged and convicted in South Korea and is currently in custody serving his sentence in South Korea.

Additionally, 337 site users from across the United States, United Kingdom, South Korea, Germany, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Czech Republic, Canada, Ireland, Spain, Brazil and Australia have been arrested and charged.   

“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. “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.”

“Children around the world are safer because of the actions taken by U.S. and foreign law enforcement to prosecute this case and recover funds for victims,” said U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu. “We will continue to pursue such criminals on and off the darknet in the United States and abroad, to ensure they receive the punishment their terrible crimes deserve.”

“Through the sophisticated tracing of bitcoin transactions, IRS-CI special agents were able to determine the location of the darknet server, identify the administrator of the website and ultimately track down the website server’s physical location in South Korea,” said IRS-CI Chief Don Fort. ”This large-scale criminal enterprise that endangered the safety of children around the world is no more.  Regardless of the illicit scheme, and whether the proceeds are virtual or tangible, we will continue to work with our federal and international partners to track down these disgusting organizations and bring them to justice.”

“Children are our most vulnerable population, and crimes such as these are unthinkable,” said HSI Acting Executive Associate Director Alysa Erichs. “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.”

According to the indictment, on March 5, 2018, agents from the IRS-CI, HSI, National Crime Agency in the United Kingdom, and Korean National Police in 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 by members of the site. The operation resulted in the seizure of approximately eight terabytes of child sexual exploitation videos, which is one of the largest seizures of its kind.  The images, which are currently being analyzed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), 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.

Welcome To Video offered these videos for sale using cryptocurrency bitcoin. Authorities stated that this website is the first of its kind to monetize child exploitation videos using bitcoin, and has boasted over a million downloads of child pornography by users.

“Each user received a unique bitcoin address when the user created an account on the website. An analysis of the server revealed that the website had more than one million bitcoin addresses, signifying that the website had capacity for at least one million users,” according to the press release. “The agencies have shared data from the seized server with law enforcement around the world to assist in identifying and prosecuting customers of the site.”

The Department of Justice stated this resulted in leads sent to 38 countries resulting in 337 arrests around the world.

“The operation has resulted in searches of residences and businesses of approximately 92 individuals in the United States. Notably, the operation is responsible for the rescue of at least 23 minor victims residing in the United States, Spain and the United Kingdom, who were being actively abused by the users of the site,” according to the DOJ. “In the Washington, D.C.-metropolitan area, the operation has led to the execution of five search warrants and eight arrests of individuals who both conspired with the administrator of the site and were themselves, users of the website. Two users of the Darknet market committed suicide subsequent to the execution of search warrants.”

Among the site users charged are:

  • Charles Wunderlich, 34, of Hot Springs, California, was charged in the District of Columbia with conspiracy to distribute child pornography.
  • Brian James LaPrath, 34, of San Diego, California, was arrested in the District of Columbia, for international money laundering; and was sentenced to serve 18 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release.
  • Ernest Wagner, 70, of Federal Way, Washington, was arrested and charged in the District of Columbia with conspiracy to distribute child pornography.
  • Vincent Galarzo, 28, of Glendale, New York, was arrested and charged in the District of Columbia with conspiracy to distribute child pornography.
  • Nicholas Stengel, 45, of Washington, D.C., pleaded guilty to receipt of child pornography and money laundering and was sentenced to serve 15 years in prison followed by a lifetime of supervised release.
  • Eryk Mark Chamberlin, 25, of Worcester, Massachusetts, pleaded guilty to possession  of child pornography and is pending sentencing.
  • Jairo Flores, 30, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, pleaded guilty in the District of Massachusetts to receipt and possession of child pornography and was sentenced to serve five years in prison followed by five years of supervised release.
  • Billy Penaloza, 29, of Dorchester, Massachusetts, pleaded guilty in the District of Massachusetts to possession and receipt of child pornography. His sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 22, 2019.
  • Michael Armstrong, 35, of Randolph, Massachusetts, pleaded guilty in the District of Massachusetts, to receipt and possession of child pornography. He was sentenced to serve five years in prison followed by five years of supervised release.  Restitution will be determined at a future date.
  • Al Ramadhanu Soedomo, 28, of Lynn, Massachusetts, pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography and was sentenced in the District of Massachusetts (Boston), to serve 12 months and one day followed by five years of supervised release.
  • Phillip Sungmin Hong, 24, of Sharon, Massachusetts, pleaded guilty in the District of Massachusetts (Boston), to receipt and possession of child pornography and is pending sentencing.
  • Michael Lawson, 36, of Midland, Georgia, was arrested in the Middle District of Georgia on charges of attempted sexual exploitation of children and possession of child pornography.  He was sentenced to serve 121 months in prison followed by 10 years of supervised release following his plea to a superseding information charging him with one count of receipt of child pornography.
  • Kevin Christopher Eagan, 39, of Brookhaven, Georgia, pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography in the Northern District of Georgia.
  • Casey Santioius Head, 37, of Griffin, Georgia, was indicted in the Northern District of Georgia for distribution, receipt, and possession of child pornography.
  • Andrew C. Chu, 28, of Garwood, New Jersey, was arrested and charged with receipt of child pornography. Those charges remain pending.
  • Nader Hamdi Ahmed, 29 of Jersey City, New Jersey, was arrested in the District of New Jersey, for sexual exploitation or other abuse of children.  Ahmed pleaded guilty to an information charging him with one count of distribution of child pornography.  He is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 1, 2019.
  • Jeffrey Lee Harris, 32, of Pickens, South Carolina, pleaded guilty in the District of South Carolina for producing, distributing, and possessing child pornography.
  • Laine Ormand Clark Jr., 27, of Conway, South Carolina, was arrested and charged in U.S. District Court in South Carolina Division for sexual possession of child pornography.
  • Jack R. Dove III, 38, of Lakeland, Florida, was arrested in the Middle District of Florida for knowingly receiving and possessing visual depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct.
  • Michael Matthew White, 39, of Miami Beach, Florida, was arrested in the Southern District of Florida for coercion and enticement.
  • Nikolas Bennion Bradshaw, 24, of Bountiful, Utah, was arrested in the State of Utah, and charged with five counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, and was sentenced to time served with 91 days in jail followed by probation.
  • Michael Don Gibbs, 37, of Holladay, Utah, was charged in the District of Utah with receipt of child pornography and possession of child pornography.
  • Ammar Atef H. Alahdali, 22, of Arlington, Virginia, pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of Virginia to receipt of child pornography and was sentenced to serve five years in prison and ordered to pay $3,000 in restitution.
  • Mark Lindsay Rohrer, 38, of West Hartford, Connecticut, pleaded guilty in the District of Connecticut to receipt of child pornography and was sentenced to serve 60 months in prison followed by five years of supervised release.
  • Eugene Edward Jung, 47, of San Francisco, California, was indicted in the Northern District of California on possession of child pornography and receipt of child pornography;
  • James Daosaeng, 25, of Springdale, Arkansas, pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography and was sentenced in the Western District of Arkansas (Fayetteville) to serve 97 months in prison followed by 20 years of supervised release.
  • Alex Daniel Paxton, 30, of Columbus, Ohio, was arrested and indicted in Franklin County Ohio Court of Common Pleas for pandering sexually oriented matter involving a minor.
  • Don Edward Pannell, 32, of Harvey, Louisiana, pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of Louisiana for receipt of child pornography. He is pending sentencing.
  • Ryan Thomas Carver, 29, of Huntsville, Alabama, was arrested and charged under Alabama State Law.  He was charged federally in the Northern District of Alabama with possession of child pornography. His case is pending in Huntsville, Alabama.
  • Alexander Buckley, 28, of the United Kingdom, pleaded guilty to 10 offences in the UK of possession and distribution of indecent images of children, possession of extreme and prohibited images and possession of a class A drug.  He was sentenced to serve 40 months in prison for the distribution of indecent images and possession of class A drugs. Buckley is also subject to an indefinite Sexual Harm Prevention Order.
  • Kyle Fox, 26, of the United Kingdom, pleaded guilty to 22 counts including rape, sexual assault, and sharing indecent images, and was sentenced to serve 22 years in prison.

Mohammed Almaker, 26, of Fort Collins, Colorado, was arrested in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), charged with KSA Law involving the endangerment of children.  He is awaiting judicial proceedings in furtherance of criminal charges.

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