FBI “Playpen Investigation”: Ex-Homeland Security analyst Arrested

Richard Armendariz worked as a U.S. Customs and Border Protection analyst for 42 years. Two days ago a federal judge denied Richards bond at a hearing. Armendariz,69, was arrested as part of a massive investigation into child pornography on dark net. Dark net is only accessible with the use of Tor, a browser that allows you to view normal websites anonymously; but also lets you access websites normal browsers can’t.

Armendariz, as testimonies have revealed, is related to former Texas Appellate judge Albert Armendariz Sr.; who died in 2007. Sr. was a former civil rights leader; and founder of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Armendariz Sr. was also a federal immigration judge.  During the time Richard Armendariz Sr. worked for the agency he was stationed in Miami, Florida; and in Colombia. He also had top-secret clearance.

When Richard retired five years ago he moved back to San Antonio, Texas where his two sons live. He was one of 215,000 people the FBI has connected to a website it seized that made child porn available on the Dark net. This is just one of the many arrests going to be made is the FBI takeover of Playpen. The FBIs investigation consisted of them infecting the site with malware, gaining control of Playpen, running it on their servers for two weeks in order to trace the websites users.

“There is a part of him that is completely unknown to his family. This man has had a demonstrated sexual interest in prepubescent children for 36 years,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracy Thompson told U.S. Magistrate Judge John Primomo during Tuesdays hearing.

At the hearing there was also a woman who alleged Armendariz molested her in El Paso. The woman said the molestations happened from the time she was 11 years old, until she was in high school. She stated that she was 20 when she finally told her parents what Armendariz was doing to her.

“It changed everything in my life. It made it difficult to have healthy sexual relationships. I was acting out. Trust is a big issue…a lot of destructive behavior,” the woman said in court. The woman’s father confronted Armendariz in the late 80’s and the alleged molestations stopped. He was never charged with anything.

Jeff Baker, an FBI Special agent told the court that their Playpen investigation targeted Armendariz specifically in in the beginning of May, 2015. It wasn’t until September that FBI agents raided his home and confiscated his laptop and computer equipment. Baker also testified that “Playpen was the largest child porn ring in existence on the Tor network.”

Armendariz testified he had been searching, and viewing child pornography via the encrypted Tor network for three years. Armendariz’ attorney also told the Magistrate “Armendariz favorite section was toddlers. Some of it involved horrible sexual abuse; some of it is described as mutilation.”

With more than 117,000 posts and an average of 11,000 unique visitors a week, Playpen has been proven to be one of the biggest on Tor. The Investigation was kept a secret until November by news reports in a San Antonio newspaper about three local men being charged in connection with the investigation. It’s still unclear how many of the 1,300 people identified by their IP addresses have been arrested.

Jeff Baker spend quite a few years investigating child abuse and exploitation cases. He also testified that the content of Playpen was some of the worst child abuse material he had ever seen and it included images and video of children of all ages being raped, and tortured. Items confiscated from Armendariz’s home contained 800 images and 140 videos of child pornography to varying degrees.

Armendariz defense attorney argued that he was forthcoming with the FBI during the September raid on his home and admitted to being in possession of child pornography. Defense attorney Davis also argued that her client is not a danger to the community because there was no evidence that Armendariz had any kind of sexual interaction with children other than 30-year-old accusations. Magistrate Primomo agreed that Armendariz was not a flight risk, but believes he is a danger to the community.

“I’ve known Baker for a long time, and for him to say this is the worst that he has ever seen leaves a strong impression in my mind.” Primomo said. “The evidence of the molestation is uncontested. There is no indication of remorse. There is no indication of any apologies,”. The judge went on to say that he couldn’t risk the possibility that Richard Armendariz would act out sexually with children if he we to release him on bond.

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