NASHVILLE, Tenn. – August 12, 2019 – The creator and lead administrator of a highly sophisticated “The Onion Router” (TOR)-network-based website dedicated to the sexual abuse of children was sentenced Friday, along with three others, for their roles in a global child exploitation enterprise.
Patrick D. Falte, 29, of Franklin, Tennessee, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for engaging in a child exploitation enterprise, three counts of advertising child pornography, and three counts of distributing child pornography. Benjamin A. Faulkner, 28, of Ontario, Canada, was sentenced to 35 years in prison; Andrew R. Leslie, 24, of Middleburg, Florida, was sentenced to 30 years in prison; and Brett A. Bedusek, 35, of Cudahy, Wisconsin, was sentenced to 20 years in prison, all for engaging in a child exploitation enterprise. Chief U.S. District Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw of the Middle District of Tennessee also sentenced each defendant to a lifetime of supervised release. All were indicted in March 2017 and pleaded guilty to the charges last year.
“The sentences imposed on these despicable individuals should insure that they never have another opportunity to abuse another child,” said U.S. Attorney Don Cochran. “With all that we have, we will continue to hunt down the evil and abominable like-minded individuals who delight in abusing children and will bring them to justice.”
“The Giftbox Exchange proved a haven for sophisticated predators to produce and spread deplorable depictions of child sexual abuse,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Today’s sentences affirm that layers of anonymity on the dark web will not prevent the Department of Justice from identifying and holding accountable those who exploit children.”
In July 2015, Falte created a website called “The Giftbox Exchange” and operated it on the TOR network as a hidden service, meaning it could only be accessed by users through the TOR anonymity network. Falte paid for the operation of the site using the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. He acted as the lead administrator of the site and established rules that required users to upload and share images and videos depicting pre-teen children being sexually abused before being allowed access to the site.
The site was organized into different forums for posting different types of child pornography, categorized by age range of the minor victims, including a sub-forum for “Babies & Toddlers.” By the time the site was shut down by law enforcement in November 2016, it had over 72,000 registered users and 56,000 posts. In addition to operating the site on the TOR network, which masks the internet protocol addresses of the users, Falte and his co-conspirators used other advanced technological means to thwart law enforcement detection and investigative efforts, including file encryption and cryptography.
Faulkner joined The Giftbox Exchange in September 2015 and became an administrator of the site. In addition to his administration of The Giftbox Exchange, he created and administered another TOR network-based hidden service website dedicated to child sexual exploitation, which grew to host over 1 million members. Leslie, in addition to his membership on the The Giftbox Exchange, ran yet another TOR network-based hidden service website, which explicitly allowed images and videos depicting graphic and violent sexual abuse of children. Bedusek, who has a prior federal conviction for receipt of child pornography and engaged in activity on The Giftbox Exchange while on federal supervised release for that offense, was a VIP member, which gave him access to a special area of the site reserved for users who uploaded new or originally produced child pornography.
Falte and Faulkner were previously charged and convicted in the Eastern District of Virginia of operating an online network dedicated to child sexual exploitation, in connection with their sexual abuse of a toddler-aged minor to whom they gained access through an individual they met through The Giftbox Exchange. Both traveled to abuse that minor on multiple occasions and were sentenced in September 2017 to life in prison by U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney, Jr.
In addition, Andrew Leslie was previously charged and convicted in the Middle District of Florida, in connection with his sexual abuse and production of child pornography involving multiple children, including an infant and a toddler. In March 2018, Leslie was sentenced to 60 years in prison by U.S. District Judge Brian J. Davis.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigations and the High Technology Investigative Unit of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) of the Department of Justice. Assistant U.S. Attorneys S. Carran Daughtrey and Byron M. Jones of the Middle District of Tennessee and CEOS Trial Attorney Lauren E. Britsch prosecuted the case.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and CEOS, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.justice.gov/psc.