[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: During the past week, we began with an
article stating internet porn involving children had increased four-
fold. Then we had a couple comments on this topic, and I mentioned
the http://PervertedJustice.com operation, best known as a vigilante
group which sets up stings involving pedophiles. Someone wrote me to
mention that the New York Times had reported on this rather
extensively a few months ago, so I searched for that article and
decided to share it with you today. PAT]
By ALLEN SALKIN; HAPPY BLITT CONTRIBUTED RESEARCH.
Published: December 13, 2006
Last month, the Web site Perverted-Justice.com posted news of the
conviction of Sean Young, a Wisconsin man sentenced to 10 years in
state prison for soliciting sex online from a 14-year-old
girl. According to a transcript of an online chat posted on the site,
at one point Mr. Young had asked the girl, identified only as Billie,
what she was wearing. When she answered 'sweats,' Mr. Young typed
back that if she were his daughter, "I'd make u wear sexy clthes."
Billie turned out to be an adult volunteer for Perverted Justice, an
anti-pedophile group, and when Mr. Young drove to a house where he
expected to meet the teenager for sex, he was arrested by sheriff's
The conviction was logged as the 104th that Perverted Justice says it
has been responsible for since 2003, a tally that as of yesterday had
reached 113. What started as one man's quest to rid his regional Yahoo
chat room of lewd adults has grown into a nationwide force of
cyberspace vigilantes, financed by a network television program hungry
for ratings. (See NBC's "To Catch a Predator" series, now aired weekly.)
"It's a kind of blog that has turned into a crime-fighting resource,"
said Robert McCrie, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Perverted Justice is best known for putting its online volunteers at the
disposal of the television newsmagazine 'Dateline NBC,' which has
broadcast 11 highly rated programs in which would-be pedophiles are
lured to 'sting houses,' only to be surprised by a camera crew and,
usually, the police.
Despite that publicity, the inner workings of Perverted Justice and its
reclusive founder remain largely a mystery, even as the group has
emerged as one of the most effective unofficial law enforcement groups
in the country, a kind of Neighborhood Watch of the Net. But the group
is also criticized by some legal and law enforcement experts, who accuse
it of entrapment, making mistakes that ruin innocent lives and,
paradoxically, disseminating its own brand of child pornography.
Peter D. Greenspun, a lawyer who defended a rabbi from Rockville, Md.,
caught in a 'Dateline' sting arranged by Perverted Justice, said that
by posting online transcripts of conversations between would-be child
molesters and volunteers posing as 12- and 13-year-olds, Perverted
Justice was encouraging, rather than deterring, pedophiles.
"They are putting out for unfiltered, unrestricted public consumption
the most graphic sexual material that they themselves say is of a
perverted nature," Mr. Greenspun said.
Perverted Justice's founder, Xavier Von Erck, 27, a former tech-support
worker, has a dedication to the cause bordering on obsession, his mother
and associates said. Mr. Von Erck lives in an apartment in Portland,
Ore., but rarely gives out his address, and he would not allow a
reporter to visit because he feared retribution from men exposed by his
group. In a telephone interview, he said he worked for his group seven
days a week, mostly from a laptop in his bedroom.
"Every waking minute he's on that computer," said his mother, Mary
Erck-Heard, 46, who raised her son after they fled his father, whom
she described as alcoholic. Mr. Von Erck legally changed his name from
Phillip John Eide, taking his maternal grandfather's family name,
Erck, and adding the Von.
In many ways, Mr. Von Erck, who said he and his mother moved 13 times
when he was in high school because they were often short of money,
continues to live that messy life of deprivation. His meals often
consist of ramen noodles, he said; his bed is perpetually unmade. For
years, he has been trying unsuccessfully to find his father, who, he
says, still owes his mother child support.
"I have a low opinion of men in general," he said. "The most heinous
crimes in our society are committed by males."
Perverted Justice has 41,000 registered users of its online forums
dedicated to the cause of stopping predators, 65 volunteers trained as
chat room decoys and three salaried leaders: Mr. Von Erck, a woman who
is a liaison with law enforcement and a business manager.
Typically, a Perverted Justice volunteer creates a false online profile,
posing as, say, a 13-year-old girl on MySpace. The volunteer will wait
to receive e-mail messages or will enter a chat room. If an adult
contacts the volunteer, the decoy responds and sees if the conversation
The group's collaboration with 'Dateline' since 2004 has been
lucrative. A person familiar with Perverted Justice's finances who
requested anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss the matter
publicly said NBC was paying the group roughly $70,000 for each hour of
"They do a lot a work for us, and they deserve to be reimbursed for
that work," said David Corvo, the executive producer of 'Dateline,'
who met with Mr. Von Erck earlier this year in New York to discuss their
Mr. Von Erck said the NBC money had been used in part to buy computer
servers that would not be overwhelmed every time the group was
mentioned on television.
Ratings for the 'Dateline' broadcasts, a series called "To Catch a
Predator" that has become a network franchise, have averaged 9.1
million viewers, compared with 7 million viewers for other 'Dateline'
episodes, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Six new episodes are planned for the first half of 2007. Two were shot
at a house in Long Beach, Calif.; two in Flagler Beach, Fla.; and two
others in Murphy, Tex. The Texas sting drew a burst of publicity in
early November, months before the episodes were scheduled to be shown,
when a prosecutor implicated as a would-be predator, Louis W. Conradt
Jr., shot himself to death as the police approached his home.
Supporters of the NBC broadcasts say they have helped increase
awareness of online predators, allowing parents to educate children
and spurring law enforcement to action. One in seven youths ages 10 to
17 who have gone online at least once a month for six months have
received unwanted sexual solicitations, according to a 2005 study by
the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New
Last month, the 'Dateline' correspondent Chris Hansen, who is featured
on the Perverted Justice specials, addressed about 500 students at a
school in Rye Brook, N.Y., about the dangers of Internet predators. One
of the first questions was why the stings filmed by 'Dateline' were
The answer, legal experts say, is that it is hard for a defendant to
prove entrapment, in this context or in any other. Some states allow
prosecutions as long as there was a 'predisposition' to the conduct.
Others require police misconduct for a defendant to claim entrapment.
One concern about Perverted Justice's nonprofessional force of
vigilantes, raised by Lt. Joseph Donohue, head of the New York State
Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, is that decoys
impersonating teenagers may be too aggressive, not understanding the
need to let predators initiate the sexual chat and therefore not
gathering chat-log evidence that will stand up in court.
Mr. Von Erck responded that so far prosecutors had not dropped charges
against any man arrested in an investigation begun by Perverted
Of the 113 convictions Mr. Von Erck's group claims, some have been for
misdemeanors resulting in no jail time, and others have brought stiff
sentences, like the one of the Maryland rabbi, David A. Kaye, who on
Dec. 1 was sentenced to six and a half years in prison on federal
charges of enticement and traveling to meet a minor for illicit sexual
Mr. Von Erck's most vociferous critic is Scott Morrow, a retired
Canadian Air Force serviceman who runs a Web site,
http://Corrupted-Justice.com, chronicling what he says are excesses by
"These are anonymous, unaccountable Net junkies doing this work," Mr.
Morrow said in an interview.
He said that Perverted Justice listed personal information for many
men it accused of being sexual predators and had sometimes mistaken
their identities and humiliated innocent people.
Mr. Von Erck said the criticisms were out-of-date; in its first years
the group did post the phone numbers, employers and photographs of men
it accused of being predators, and anyone could humiliate the
individuals by, say, e-mailing transcripts of a man's lewd online
chats to his friends and colleagues.
But since early this year, Perverted Justice has made a policy of not
immediately posting the information it gathers in most cases; instead
it contacts law enforcement and encourages pursuit of an arrest.
"We are now a conviction machine," Mr. Von Erck said.
Mr. Von Erck, who said he was not molested as a child, prefers not to
analyze his own motivation for dedicating himself so fully to the
effort. Asked to explain why he did it, he did so with spare emotion.
"It gets tiring," he said, "but when you find somebody that's already
been successful doing something harmful to a child and then you get him
arrested, you can't beat that."
Copyright 2006, New York Times Company.
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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: While I am not a lawyer, I have been
instructed by attornies about the difference between 'entrapment' and
'enticement'. If the government or its agents break the law in an
effort to get you to also break the law, that is entrapment, and it
is illegal and unconstitutional. If the government or its agents
merely make it more convenient for YOU to break the law, without
actually doing so itself, that is NOT illegal. A police officer is
required under the law, to identify himself as such if he is asked,
but of course many do so in a most evasive way, i.e. "Are you a
police officer?" (and a response being)"Do I look like a police
officer?" (or) "Why would you say something dumb like that?" (with
the respondent's hope being you do not pursue the matter any further.)
We used to see this a lot in olden pre-computer times when police
officers would go into public restrooms and deliberatly expose them-
selves, hoping that some gay guy present would 'take the bait' and
wind up getting arrested. The old 'entrapment or enticement' argument
would come up a lot. The more modern version of that now days is in
computer chat rooms, and a reasonable question might be is Perverted
Justice 'making the first move' (wrong and illegal) or are they merely
enticing others to act first. (sometimes perhaps legal, although IMO a
sort of distasteful activity.) Mr. Morrow of
http://corrupted-justice.com claims the Perverted Justice people often
times get -- let's say -- 'overzealous' -- particularly now that they
are getting many thousands of dollars from NBC to produce these
spectacles on the air each week, ie. men getting arrested, etc. PAT]