Years ago, the FBI began investigating darknet child pornography viewers, sharers, and a whole dragnet of unrelated individuals. The legality of the case and more importantly the validity of the evidence the FBI obtained faced scrutiny from both sides of the law. Federal judges ruled both for and against the use of the illegal Network Investigative (NIT) on the defendants in the case. As we recently covered, the FBI hacked over 8,000 computers with the malware and the vast majority never viewed child porn. One of the three main defendants to fight the case, based on the FBI’s handling of the investigation, just pleaded guilty to child pornography crimes.
Bruce Lorente, a 58-year-old from Seattle, Washington, recently pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography. This plea is the second guilty plea to the same crime, in the same case, by Lorente. Earlier in the judicial process, the court allowed Lorente to withdraw his guilty plea based on the newly released evidence regarding the FBI’s highly controversial investigate techniques. The Seattle Times wrote that “Bryan raised constitutional and procedural concerns about the Operation Pacifier investigation.”
The recently released court documents from the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington vs. David Tippens, Gerald Lessan, and Bruce Lorente revealed the true scope of the FBI NIT. The FBI received a warrant to deploy the NIT, a piece of malware used to identify a user based on their IP address, from a magistrate judge in Virginia. The warrant, the FBI claimed, contained a clear and concise scope. It allowed the hacking of primary suspects, according to early reports. Documents from unsealed cases started revealing that the FBI hacked more than the 214 arrested suspects. Initially, some thought, the hack only applied to another 1,000—many of them innocent, too. Moreover, then, shortly after the 1,000-hacked IPs surfaced, the Tippens, Lessan, and Lorente plea withdrawal documents became public. That plea withdrawal revealed that the FBI hacked 8,000 IP addresses.
U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan disagreed with the FBI’s overall handling of the case. Like the suspects who withdraw their guilty pleas based on “legal innocence,” Judge Bryan fought the FBI’s work in a similar manner. Legal innocence, in a short explanation, is no more than asserting that the government could not or did not legally obtain evidence to yield a conviction—regardless of whether the illegal evidence proved guilt. t
The 58-year-old from Seattle pleaded guilty to one count of possession of child pornography. Judge Bryan never set a sentencing date and opted for an immediate sentencing hearing. He sentenced Lorente to time served and 15 years on the sex offender registry, with federal supervision. Upon recommendation from the defense, he also ordered that authorities transfer Lorente from the SeaTac Federal Detention Center to a halfway house as soon as a spot or bed opens for him.
Both Lorente’s attorney and the federal prosecutors on the case agreed that the trial’s outcome resulted in a fair sentence for Lorente. Lorente’s attorney said that his client “got a good deal” when he potentially faced 20 years. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Emily Langlie, said the prosecution was pleased that the offender will be under federal supervision into his 70s. “These conditions will provide protections for the community and ensure that the defendant receives treatment,” she said.
Tippens and Lessan await their next court appearance.