New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney Blog Covering New Jersey and Federal Criminal Law and Procedure

Articles Posted in Child Pornography

Law enforcement agencies that investigate child pornography cases face special technological challenges when tracking the distribution of contraband on the Internet, and then in building a case against a specific defendant.  A case in point is “Dreamboard”, an online bulletin board that advertised and distributed child pornography.  Dreamboard users employed encryption software, peer-to-peer networks and the so-called “Dark Web” to share images between and amount members/subscribers in 13 different countries.  In fact, all Dreamboard subscribers were required to use specific encryption software when viewing and/or sharing images.  Further, each file description had a specific link and password which allowed access to images through another website that stored encrypted files.  Dreamboard was the target of a 2009 sting operation that resulted in approximately 70 convictions.  The site was infiltrated through the efforts of several dozen law enforcement agencies including, without limitation, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, and 35 domestic ICE offices.

Dreamboard users obviously had to have both a level of technological skill, as well as the appropriate equipment and software, to be members.  The Dreamboard case was, however, not unique in this regard.  In a recent Louisiana case, a defendant set his computer to wipe the hard drive clean if a password was not entered within a few seconds of opening the device.  Another defendant asked an undercover agent posing as a minor to send him a picture during an online chat.  Law enforcement personnel are not allowed to distribute pornography, so the agent’s smartphone would not allow him to send a photo.  This ultimately led the defendant to believe that the agent was using a smartphone, at which point he ended the conversation.

If it all sounds complicated, that’s because it is.  The possession and distribution of online pornography is becoming increasingly sophisticated in terms of technology and scope.  These cases can include the use of password protection, encryption, file servers and/or peer-to-peer networks, software designed to eliminate evidence, remote storage, partitioned hard drives, and the like.  These cases are further complicated by the fact that pornography has gone global, and frequently involves the use of mobile devices, apps, and social media sites including What’s App, Kik Messenger, Instagram and Snapchat.  Finally, cases can involve terabytes of data.  (One terabyte equals about 1,000 gigabytes, and can hold approximately 3.6 million images or 300 hours of video.) Continue reading

The United States Attorney’s Offices for the Southern District of New York and the Northern District of Georgia recently announced three indictments charging several defendants with, among other things, computer hacking, theft and fraud.  [US v. Shalon, No. 15-cr-00333 (S.D.N.Y.); US v. Murgio, No. 15-cr-00769 (S.D.N.Y.); and US v. Shalon, No. 15-cr-00393 (N.D.Ga.)]  More specifically, the grand juries hearing these cases charged the defendants with computer hacking, securities and wire fraud, identity theft, illegal internet gambling, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and operating an unlicensed money transmitter.  These cases are noteworthy not only because of the sheer magnitude of the enterprise described by federal prosecutors, but also because of the manner in which they highlight the increasingly aggressive posture that the Justice Department continues to take toward cybercrime.

According to the US Attorney, the defendants hacked into the computer systems of several large financial services companies and financial news publishers.  Federal prosecutors did not identify the companies involved, but other news sources identified at least some of them as JPMorgan Chase, ETrade, Scottrade, TDAmeritrade, Fidelity Investments, and Dow Jones.  The defendants allegedly stole personal information for more than 100 million people and used it to, among other things, market securities in a deceptive manner by arranging to have prospective purchasers cold-called.

The defendants’ other activities allegedly included operating illegal online casinos, payment processing for criminals, operating an illegal bitcoin exchange, and laundering money through up to 75 shell companies and accounts around the world.  In the course of doing so, the defendants purportedly procured and used over 200 false identification documents which included over 30 false passports issued by almost 20 different countries, as well as servers located in Egypt, the Czech Republic, South Africa, Brazil and other countries.  The US Attorney believes the defendants generated hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal proceeds.  Many of the charged offenses carry federal prison terms of 20 years. Continue reading

It has been 20 years since New Jersey enacted Megan’s Law, which require convicted sex offenders to register with local authorities in the community where they live.  Whether and to what extent the law has accomplished anything remains a hotly debated subject.

Briefly, the law requires, among other things, that convicted sex offenders undergo an assessment that is supposedly geared towards determining their risk of re-offending.  Offenders in the lowest tier (one) are placed under what is considered to be the most lenient level of supervision.  Offenders in tiers two and three are supervised more strictly, and appear on the New Jersey State Police Internet Sex Offender Registry.  The other States and the Federal system have enacted similar laws.

A State-wide army of parole officers are charged with supervising convicted sex offenders throughout New Jersey.  Once an offender is placed under parole supervision, the parole officer responsible for their case has tremendous latitude over where they can live and work and what kind of job they can have.  An offender’s parole officer can also restrict their ability to socialize with minors, even if the latter are members of the offender’s own family.  It is extremely difficult to challenge the actions of a parole officer.  Typically, the offender must receive a determination from the parole board that denies their request to adjust the terms or conditions of their supervision.  That determination must then be appealed to the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court.  The overall process of challenging restrictions can easily take a year or more. Continue reading

Earlier this year, the US Supreme Court handed down its decision in Paroline v. United States.  The decision instructs district courts to adopt a common sense approach in computing restitution awards in child pornography cases.

Paroline pleaded guilty to possessing images of child pornography downloaded from the internet, which included two of the victim identified only as “Amy”.  Images of Amy were circulated on the internet, and were available to, and downloaded by, any number of unknown and/or unidentified individuals in addition to Paroline.  Amy sought full restitution from Paroline, consisting of $3 million in lost income and $500,000 in future treatment and counseling costs.  The district court declined to award restitution, concluding that the Government failed to meet its burden of proving what portion of the full amount of losses, if any, was caused by Paroline’s offense.  The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals then ruled that the applicable statute did not limit the amount of the restitution award to losses caused by any particular defendant, and that each defendant who had Amy’s images was liable for her entire loss.  Thus, Paroline was on the hook for $3.5 million in restitution for possessing two images of Amy downloaded from the internet, notwithstanding the fact that these images circulated freely on the web, and had been downloaded by any number of viewers to whom he had no connection.

The Supreme Court found correctly that under the circumstances, it was inappropriate to saddle one individual who had only two images with the entire award.  First, the Court found that under the applicable statute, restitution was proper only to the extent that the defendant’s offense conduct caused the victim’s losses.  Further, the Government has the burden of demonstrating the amount of that loss.  Moreover, the Court found that victims in “CP” cases should be compensated and defendants must account for the impact that their conduct has on the victim but, at the same time, defendants should be liable only for the consequences and gravity of their conduct, and not the conduct of others. Continue reading

In 1997 and 1998, an eight-year-old girl known as “Amy” was sexually abused and raped repeatedly by her uncle.  Amy’s uncle received a custodial term of 10 years, and was ordered to pay $6,325.00 in restitution.  The assaults were photographed, and the photos were placed on the Internet and spread around the world.  Nobody really knows who photographed the assaults or placed them on the Internet, and it is impossible to know how many people viewed them or shared them with others.    When Amy was older, she learned that thousands of people were viewing these images, and said that it made her feel that the abuse was re-occurring and would never end.

A federal statute requires defendants in child porn cases to pay the full amount of restitution to victims such as Amy.  On its face, the statute arguably requires each defendant to make full payment notwithstanding the portion of harm they actually caused.  Amy eventually retained an attorney who computed the full amount of restitution due her at $3.4 million.  Her attorney began serving restitution demands for $3.4 million on child porn defendants everywhere, regardless of how many pictures of Amy were implicated in their respective cases, or whether they were convicted of simple possession, as opposed to distribution.

Doyle Randall Paroline of Texas subsequently pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography, and received a two-year term and ten years of supervised release.  Two of the 300 images discovered on his computer hard drive were of Amy.  As a result, Amy’s attorney served him with a demand for $3.4 million in restitution.  Paroline’s attorney argued recently before the US Supreme Court that his client, who was convicted of possession, as opposed to production and/or distribution, should not have to pay that much because it was out of all proportion to any harm Amy sustained from his conduct.  Amy’s attorney argued that the statute literally requires full payment from each defendant.

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