Leader of the Dark Net’s largest child-porn network sentenced to 21 years

The man Homeland Security describes as the “ringleader” of the biggest child pornography website ever discovered was sentenced to 21 years in prison today after he pleaded guilty early last year to operating an enterprise built on child exploitation.

Jonathan Johnson, a 27-year-old man from Abita Springs, La., admitted to administering two anonymous websites on the Tor network and creating fake female identities on popular social networks to target over a dozen children to manipulate them into producing sexually explicit material. He also coached other defendants to do the same.

Johnson was arrested in June 2013 when his site, which authorities do not name, hosted over 2,000 videos for more than 27,000 members.

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and multiple U.S. attorneys cooperated in the investigation dubbed “Operation Roundtable.” All ten defendants arrested in the case pleaded guilty to crimes involving sexual exploitation of children.

It’s not clear how the investigation worked. Law enforcement has had limited, but highly notable, success against targets utilizing the encryption and anonymity of the Tor network, which is built to protect users’ privacy.

In this case, the criminal complaint is sealed “because the complaint contains sensitive information related to other child exploitation investigations, which are still ongoing,” according to DHS, and the indictment includes virtually no information on the details of police action.

Nevertheless, cops are celebrating their victory.

“As the ringleader of a pack of sadistic child predators, this defendant is responsible for the sexual exploitation of hundreds of young victims, whose documented abuse was subsequently distributed to thousands of perverted criminals,” Raymond R. Parmer Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New Orleans, said in an email to the press earlier today. 

“There is simply no room in our society for such monsters, and I applaud the HSI special agents who put him in handcuffs and the federal prosecutors who put him behind bars. In this case, justice has been served.”

Photo via Tim Snell (CC BY ND 2.0)

Patrick Howell O'Neill

Patrick Howell O'Neill

Patrick Howell O'Neill is a notable cybersecurity reporter whose work has focused on the dark net, national security, and law enforcement. A former senior writer at the Daily Dot, O'Neill joined CyberScoop in October 2016. I am a cybersecurity journalist at CyberScoop. I cover the security industry, national security and law enforcement.