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Franklin man sentenced to 9 years after caught up in notorious FBI child porn operation

Posted: 10:00 AM, Mar 11, 2019
Updated: 2019-03-11 17:18:06Z
Brandon Spicer

CINCINNATI — A Franklin man, who was caught in a sweeping sting of a dark-web child porn site, was sentenced last week to nine years in prison.

Brandon Spicer, 43, who has been living with his mother in Alliance while awaiting sentencing, will spend a lifetime on probation after he serves his prison sentence, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Susan Dlott ruled on March 7. He reports to prison in late April.

Five men from southern Ohio were arrested from 2015 to 2017 in the government’s massive sting operation known as “Operation Pacifier,” which resulted in nearly 900 arrests worldwide.

At one point, the Playpen website was believed to be the world’s largest child pornography website — with more than 150,000 users around the world. The FBI secretly took over the Playpen child porn website for two weeks in late February and March 2015, after getting a tip from a foreign law enforcement agency that the site’s operator had accidentally revealed its IP address.

Brandon Spicer of Franklin was sentenced to 9 year for a child pornography charge.

A magistrate signed off on a search warrant allowing the FBI to operate the porn site from a government facility in Virginia. The FBI used secret spyware – a Network Investigative Technique, or NIT -- to learn the identity of website visitors who normally navigated the dark web anonymously.

During that time, the FBI found Spicer. He logged onto the site on Feb. 22, 2015 under the username “MAZTER.” He had registered an account on Playpen the previous Aug. 23, 2014, and from then until March 3, 2015, he spent a total of 126 active hours on the site, according to court documents.

WATCH BELOW: Is government hacking OK if it finds child porn?

The FBI searched Spicer's home in July 2015 and found more than 600 images on his computer and cellphone depicting children under 12 being sexually assaulted and abused by adult men, authorities said.

Spicer wanted the judge to throw out the evidence, arguing that the original search warrant was too broad and the FBI’s role in operating and expanding a child porn site too outrageous. But Dlott denied his motion.

Spicer pleaded guilty to receiving child pornography in March 2018.

The case is still playing out in court for another of the local suspects arrested in connection to the "Playpen" investigation.

Eric Michael Schuster is awaiting trial on three charges related to child pornography.

Eric Michael Schuster, 34, of Fairfield, is awaiting trial on charges of possessing, receiving and producing child pornography.

Agents found four internal hard drives that contained thousands of images and videos of child pornography during a search of Schuster’s home in August 2015. The images and videos were with videos of his time in the military and family images.

Schuster had shared custody of his two minor children, a son, age 10, and a daughter, age 5, according to court documents.

Agents also discovered a large number of weapons, including two loaded handguns found underneath one of Schuster’s pillows on his bed.