Catching Kiwipedo: Child sex dark web court case took years, NZ man jailed today

WARNING: This story contains descriptions and language associated with child sex offending.

It was on a section of the dark web devoted to the sexual exploitation of children the username brazenly entitled Kiwipedo first came to the attention of New Zealand authorities.

Aaron Joseph Hutton, 36, was arrested after months of covert investigation and publicly unmasked when his long-running court case took a dramatic turn – guilty pleas mid-trial.

Hutton admitted trying to enter into a deal involving a person under 18 for sexual exploitation and possession of more than 400 objectionable images.

Today, he was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment by Judge Allan Roberts, who had earlier issued a warrant to ensure the attendance of the tardy 36-year-old.

When Hutton entered the courtroom he was immediately, albeit very briefly, escorted into the cells before emerging in the dock where he motioned dusting off his hands and suit.

It was the end of a court case that stretched back years.

The username Kiwipedo stood out to the New Zealand police officer who was working covertly on the dark web in Australia in 2014.

The dark web’s anonymity readily lends itself to criminal activities. The mention of its name is near synonymous with an illegal drug and pornography trade.

The covert officer was able to legally use a device, already associated with child abuse, that had been earlier seized in New Zealand.

In Australia, under the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 (Qld) police can apply to a court for permission to commit criminal offences in the course of an investigation.

Unknowingly speaking to the undercover cop, Kiwipedo described Fritzl as a “hero”, court documents show.

This was a reference to Austrian paedophile Josef Fritzl who imprisoned his daughter in a basement for 24 years and repeatedly raped her, the court heard.

Sinister remarks alone were not enough for the investigator to pursue charges then and there.

It was too soon to say who was behind the keyboard.

The username Kiwipedo was flagged by the police officer to Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) investigators and building the case against Hutton became a cross-agency effort.

Within a minute of an undercover DIA operative contacting the profile, Kiwipedo was directly asking if the user could traffic children internationally.

In conversation, Hutton said he was willing to pay up to $15,000 in cash or in bitcoin for a child under 7.

Over the course of six weeks Judge Roberts said Hutton regularly pressured the agent about finding a child, repeatedly asking how the search was progressing.

During these communications Hutton became more specific about the age and ethnicity, the judge said.

In April 2015, another DIA agent reached out to Kiwipedo, pretending to have a 7-year-old daughter.

The Crown provided for trial the messages from Kiwipedo showing he was interested in “sharing [his] girl for some fun”.

Hutton stared at the floor as the sentencing judge read out some of the graphic and disturbing descriptions of child sexual abuse detailed in the messages.

A meeting never eventuated. And a real-life child was not being offered.

Instead, investigators used a tracing tool to find the relevant computer in an Auckland workplace in mid-2015.

The Herald cannot reveal exactly how Hutton was caught because of strict suppression orders.

After being read his rights, Hutton admitted he had browsed Silk Road – an online black market – “back in the day” but said he had deleted it long ago.

Another search warrant was executed at his home and unearthed evidence on a hard drive of 417 objectionable images of children being sexually abused.

The images had been deleted by the owner at some point after being initially loaded on earlier that year.

The Crown alleged there were also encrypted folders on Hutton’s other devices, which could not be accessed, in a folder called “Pure Evil & Darkness”.

Another folder the Crown alleged he had on his system was called “Sick & Twisted”.

At sentencing, Crown prosecutor Sam McMullan said after Hutton’s guilty pleas he seemed to claim the attempted dealing had been some sort of joke.

Hutton claimed he had engaged with law enforcement in “a game of cat and mouse” but that was “not born out on the evidence”.

Rather, Hutton was trying to distance himself “from the very serious offending he committed”.

McMullan said three aggravating features of the case were the premeditation, the vulnerability of the intended victim and the extent of offending he intended to commit.

The Crown prosecutor said descriptions of the objectionable material made for “difficult reading”.

A defence lawyer acting on Hutton’s behalf said the offending was limited to an attempt, no meeting occurred and no payment exchanged hands.

She emphasised he could only be sentenced on the proven elements of the charges he pleaded guilty to, not the withdrawn charge relating to the April messages.

However, Judge Roberts said he considered the wider content helped paint a full picture as to exactly what it was Hutton was looking for.

Both admitted charges pointed to an “unhealthy interest” in sexual activity with young girls, he said.

Of the 417 images recovered, the Crown case had described the contents of 15 for the court.

The manager of the Department of Internal Affairs Digital Child Exploitation Team welcomed the end of the case, calling it a “successful joint operation” with New Zealand Police.

“DIA, Customs, and Police continue to work tirelessly together to investigate individuals trading in child sexual exploitation material,” Tim Houston said.

Authorities were acutely aware people who use and share child sexual exploitation material present significant risks to children in the offline world, Houston said.

“Child sexual exploitation and abuse material depicts a crime scene, and the worst moment in a child’s life,” he said.

“Stopping the distribution of this type of material is critical because every time this material is shared, the children involved in this crime are re‐victimised.”

Detective Sergeant Corey Brown, from the Waitematā Police, called it a prolonged and detailed investigation.

Investigative techniques to target those individuals offending online were constantly evolving, he said.

“We hope today’s sentencing serves as a warning to other offenders preying on children online and distributing child exploitation material that it is only a matter of time before you are caught and prosecuted.”

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