Darkest Secret: Largest global Dark Net child exploitation site once operated from Franklin

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Patrick Falute was an IT technician who worked for a major corporation. He lived in Franklin and ran one of the largest Dark Net child sexual exploitation sites in the world.

In his 18 years investigating sex crimes against children, Homeland Security Supervisory Special Agent Jim Cole claims this case was unlike anything he’s ever seen.

“That case almost reads like a spy novel because some of the things that had to happen – the timing of certain things, putting trackers on vehicles the surveillance. It was a very complicated case but it was worth the effort,” said Cole.

Falute —then 27 years old — was a master on the Dark Net.

“One of the boards had over a million users. In order to gain status on that board – there’s levels of membership- there was no money involved. If you wanted to be a VIP on that board, then you would have to prove that you were abusing a child and send imagery of that to the moderators. You then had to continue doing that every month or you would be kicked out of the VIP area,” explained Cole.

The site attracted pedophiles from around the globe, including 26-year-old Benjamin Faulkner, of Canada.

The two made the mistake of meeting in person.

“During that trip to Virginia, they went to a residence where they sexually abused a 4-year-old girl. It was also the first time that we had seen the online world turn into the real world. To not just facilitate the sexual abuse and trade the imagery, but to actually meet other offenders, who are then providing children that they’re abusing,” said Cole.

Both Falute and Faulker were sentenced to 35 years in prison for engaging in a child exploitation enterprise, among other charges.

“Falute was responsible personally for the sexual abuse of numerous children but he was also responsible for child sex abuse globally. We worked child identifications and rescues in almost 100 countries,” added Cole.

While these men are behind bars, their illegal efforts had a lasting impact on the Dark Web.

“He gave a platform for offenders to feel safe. To commit these horrific crimes, to share their horrific crimes and to embolden others to commit those all while sitting in a room in Franklin, Tennessee.”

In 2017, Falte and Faulkner were sentenced to life imprisonment in connection with the sexual abuse of a toddler.

News 2 investigates the alarming crime trend now coming to light in Middle Tennessee after the COVID-19 pandemic. In a special report, Darkest Secret, learn more about the fight to stop child pornography and what it truly entails – Click here for our special reports.

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