Andrew Murray, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, announced that Carl Jack Hall, 51, of Asheville, North Carolina, was sentenced to nine years in prison followed by a lifetime of supervised release. Hall used Playpen under the username “Amoura,” according to evidence provided by the FBI.
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Carl Jack Hall, 51, of Asheville, N.C. was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger to 108 months in prison on charges of possession and receipt of child pornography, announced Andrew Murray, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. In addition to the prison term imposed, Judge Reidinger ordered Hall to serve a lifetime of supervised release and to register as a sex offender.
According to court documents, the prosecution of this case stems from the FBI’s investigation into “Playpen,” a sophisticated child pornography website that operated on the anonymous “TOR” network. Using the dark web, Playpen’s more than 150,000 total members, anonymously stored and shared with each other videos and images that depicted children being sexually abused. Court records show that the website also included discussion forums pertaining to the sexual exploitation of children, including tips for grooming children and avoiding detection by law enforcement.
Court documents show that, over the course of the investigation, the FBI identified a member of the website who went by the name “Amoura,” later determined to be Hall. In July 2015, law enforcement conducted a search warrant at Hall’s residence and seized his laptop. A forensic analysis of the laptop revealed that Hall possessed hundreds of images of children being sexually abused. A web browser for the TOR network was also located on the computer, and contained a bookmark for the Playpen website. Hall initially lied to an FBI agent about his knowledge of TOR, and denied any knowledge of child pornography or of the Playpen website on his device.
On January 19, 2018, a federal jury convicted Hall of possession and receipt of child pornography.
In making today’s announcement, U.S. Attorney Murray commended the work of the FBI and highlighted the success of this operation which to date has led to the arrest of at least 350 U.S.-based individuals nationwide, the prosecution of 25 producers of child pornography, and the prosecution of at least 51 alleged hands-on abusers. Also, 55 American children who were subjected to sexual abuse have been rescued.
Law enforcement became aware of Mr. Hall via their investigation called “Operation Playpen,” of which this court is aware. As part of that investigation, the government assumed the operation of a large private organization dedicated to, among other things, aiding in the distribution of child pornography. During its tenure as a child pornographer, the FBI identified 150,000 consumers of child pornography and prosecuted some unknown, small percentage of those consumers. The government’s criteria for determining which of the 150,000 to prosecute is unknown and unknowable, as the answer depends on trusting people who would distribute child pornography and then ask non-consumers of it to trust that their secret deliberations were performed with integrity. Mr. Hall is one of those whom the government prosecuted.
This court has sentenced 15 people for convictions related to child pornography whose prosecutions begun since the end of “Operation Playpen.” Those sentences range from 27-252 months imprisonment as follows: 27 months, 36 months, 50 months, 60 months, 60 months, 75 months, 76 months, 100 months, 102 months, 108 months, 114 months, 120 months, 204 months, and 252 months. Mr. Hall derives the following conclusions.
There are two sentences far longer than all the rest. It is likely that those two individuals were persons who either produced child pornography themselves, had some direct responsibility for its production, harmed a child personally while committing their criminal conduct, or a combination of more than one of those factors. As indicated in the PSI, Mr. Hall has no record of harming children and, in fact, his recent record in Asheville is one of simple nuisance-making and vagrancy.
Without access to the PSI’s of all defendants, Mr. Hall cannot know for certain which of those prosecutions arose out of that investigation. Since the court has seen all of those PSI’s, the court is better aware of the exact breakdown. Mr. Hall believes it fair to assume that many of those prosecutions arose out of this very large investigation. Still, even those which were not conceived in “Operation Playpen” are analogous if they involve similar conduct.
There are old convictions in the PSI which are not Mr. Hall’s. The court will determine at sentencing if, for purposes of this sentencing, they may be attributed to him. In any event, none of them are for harm or potential harm to children.
Of the remaining individuals, they are evenly split between sentences of less than 60 months and sentences of 100-120 months (with two right in the middle at 75 and 76 months. It is likely that the group with the higher sentences are those who have shown the court some indication that their viewing of child pornography was extensive, long- standing, and/or likely to be repeated if not treated. As this court is aware, many persons who commit this type of crime are those who are likely to re-offend without intensive treatment, and those persons, if not very young men, are likely to have shown some previous indication of sexual interest in children. Mr. Hall is now nearly 52 years old and, even if the court attributes every conviction in the PSI to him, has never shown any inclination toward this type of conduct. While counsel for Mr. Hall is unfamiliar with the testimony at trial, having been appointed after the trial but before sentencing, it seems clear from the record that Mr. Hall’s interest in the photos and videos was one of curiosity rather than desire, and is thus highly likely to be deterred by a prison sentence.
Finally, among the lowest sentences this court has given, Mr. Hall’s conduct is likely to be in the middle of that range. To be sure, Mr. Hall’s failure to admit responsibility for his curiosity about things he knew to be unlawful is not mitigating. However, the number of images in this case is far lower than the number this court sees in a “regular” case of this nature, which suggests his viewing of the images was not a regular event for him. Moreover, while his attempt to remove the images from his computer indicates a lack of acceptance of responsibility, it similarly indicates a lack of interest in keeping the images. Since no other evidence suggests that Mr. Hall was a regular consumer of child pornography, the destruction of the images shows that, combined with the deterrent effect of the sentence he is to receive, he is unlikely to obtain such material in the future since he does not have a natural compulsion to it.
Mr. Hall requests a sentence of 60 months imprisonment in order to “avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct.” 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(6) (2010). For the reasons argued above, this sentence “reflect[s] the seriousness of the offense, promote[s] respect for the law… provide[s] just punishment for the offense … [and] afford[s] adequate deterrence to criminal conduct.” 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(2) (2010).