One of the five men arrested in southern Ohio as part of a Federal Bureau of Investigation operation that targeted members of a dark web child abuse forum pleaded guilty to the receipt and possession of child pornography. The man, a 34-year-old from Fairfield, Ohio, fought the government at every possible turn, making this case one of the lengthiest cases associated with the FBI’s Operation Pacifier.
Richard Nicholas Stamper, 34, was raided in September 2015 after the Federal Bureau of Investigation had identified Stamper’s IP address as one of the many IP addresses that accessed a darknet child abuse forum called “Playpen.” Federal authorities searched the man’s computer and identified thousands of pictures of child abuse and hundreds of illegal videos depicting the same or similar content. Stamper, at the time of the raid and arrest, was with his son and step-daughter—both under eight years old at the time.
The September 2015 raid was not the first time Stamper had been arrested. In 2003, an Ohio court had convicted Stamper of raping a child under the age of 13 in Butler County. At his 2015 arrest, Stamper was receiving a weekend visit from both children—something he had only recently been permitted to do. FBI Special Agent Pamela S. Kirschner, Task Force Officer Mary P. Braun, and other agents showed up at Stamper’s Fairfield home on September 18, 2015. Magistrate Judge Stephanie K. Bowman had signed a warrant for Stamper’s arrest on September 17, 2015.
Stamper let officers in the house and agreed to speak with Special Agent Kirschner while Task Force Officer Braun searched his computers and other law enforcement officers searched the house for evidence of criminal activity. Special Agent Kirschner noted that the SSID of Stamper’s wireless network was “STAMPER” and that he had an identical set up at an address he had rented prior to any Operation Pacifier activity. Perhaps Stamper told the Special Agent this information. Or perhaps law enforcement had already known Stamper’s WiFi SSID and password in connection with supervision following his 2003 rape conviction.
Stamper had two computers in his house. One, the Special Agent noted in the criminal complaint, was located in the main room of the house and remained connected to the television. It served as a machine used only by the children on weekends. Court records showed that only Stamper’s laptop contained pictures and videos depicting child abuse. On the desktop of his laptop running Windows Vista, the Task Force Officer spotted the icon for the Tor Browser. In a “preview search” of the files on the computer, the Task Force Officer identified hundreds of files named with a description of what the picture or video depicted. The Task Force Officer confirmed that the files depicted child abuse by viewing the files in the “Recent Files” pane of the computer’s file explorer.
The case proceeded much like the other Operation Pacifier cases that unfolded around the United States within a similar timeframe. Stamper and his attorney, though, received the information from their discovery motion only five days prior to one of the court dates. Until then, Stamper had not known the case was connected to a much larger investigation. After learning that the FBI had used an exploit in the Tor Browser Bundle to identify Playpen members, Stamper hired a forensic expert to help examine the exploit. He hired the same person who had provided information in an Operation Pacifier case dismissed by the Department of Justice and in the case where the court had suppressed evidence gathered through use of the exploit (the NIT).
That expert’s analysis, although identical to the analysis provided in the aforementioned cases, had no impact on the court. Even though the defense learned that the NIT had incorrectly identified the MAC address of Stamper’s computer (by identifying a MAC address never under Stamper’s control), the court ruled the NIT had provided admissible evidence. And the evidence was still considered admissible even after evidence proved the NIT had identified the computer Stamper had allegedly used as a Windows 10 machine. Furthermore, more than 63 percent of the images law enforcement reportedly discovered on Stamper’s computer had timestamps that indicated he had saved them to his computer before the computer’s hard drive had even been produced. The defense argued that even if use it the NIT was legal, the actual execution of the NIT on Stamper’s computer had messed up something.
The court stood its ground and ruled that the evidence, no matter the argument, was admissible. Stamper pleaded guilty to possessing and receiving child pornography. His sentence will likely be in the higher end of the sentencing guidelines due to the prior offense.