By KEN MAGUIRE, Associated Press Writer
This was Stacey DeLuca's plan: Chat online with child predators while
pretending to be a young girl. Just a few hours.
"I'd rather have them talk to me than a real 13-year-old," the
It didn't take long before a 50-year-old California man allegedly told
DeLuca -- who was posing as 13-year-old "Jess" from Massachusetts --
that he likes "younger girls" and that she wouldn't be his first.
DeLuca called police, and stayed in character for a month, saving
transcripts of the man's lurid comments and graphic photos from the
Yahoo Inc. chat room.
The result: Lawrence I. Katz of Oceanside, in San Diego County, was
charged with attempting to send harmful matter to a minor via
electronic means. He's fighting the charges.
"I was totally surprised," said DeLuca, a Worcester resident who works
in the promotions department of a local radio station. "You get in a
chat room and you get tons and tons of instant messages. These guys
wait to talk to some little girl."
DeLuca is among a growing number of civilians across the nation who
are conducting online stings to catch potential child predators.
Perverted Justice, an organization that's dedicated to outing online
predators, expects to double its volunteer corps, to 100, by year's
Critics say it borders on vigilantism. Criminal defense attorneys
argue that it amounts to entrapment and that the nature of the charges
-- rather than the weight of evidence -- forces people to plead guilty
to avoid publicity.
Law enforcement officials warn that sloppy civilian investigations
will push predators further underground, and that civilians may be
endangering their own safety.
"In criminal justice matters, control is key," said Gerry Leone, a
former state and federal prosecutor in Massachusetts. "Civilians who
haven't been trained lose the aspect of control."
NBC's "Dateline" program has helped popularize the practice by teaming
with Perverted Justice to lure adult men to a "meet." The men expect
to find a young sex partner, but are instead met by TV cameras, and
more recently, by police officers as well.
In the program's fourth sting, 17 men were arrested in late March when
they traveled to a home in Greenville, Ohio, where they expected to
meet an underage girl, according to the Darke County Sheriff's office.
Perverted Justice, which was paid by NBC to run its latest sting,
boasts of having contributed to more than 50 convictions nationwide,
all detailed on its Web site. The group, based in Portland, Ore.,
enlists volunteers to go undercover online.
It has inspired a rival organization, called Corrupted Justice, which
decries Perverted Justice's practices as vigilantism. Corrupted
Justice says investigations should be conducted only by law
The Justice Department says stopping online predators is a top
priority. Total federal prosecutions of child pornography and abuse
cases increased nearly fivefold from 344 in fiscal 1995 to 1,576 in
fiscal 2005, a top Justice attorney told a congressional panel in
And the federally funded Internet Crimes Against Children task forces'
investigations resulted in 3,423 state charges and 563 federal charges
in the first half of 2005, according to DOJ attorney William Mercer's
Sgt. Jeff Skuza, head of investigations for the Fargo, N.D., Police
Department, said civilians can be helpful, especially because many
departments have limited manpower. Working with a Perverted Justice
volunteer in March, Fargo police arrested four men who showed up to a
"We're happy with the integrity" of the evidence, Skuza said.
Civilians inadvertently can damage a case, some police say, by scaring
off the target. A Massachusetts man burned the hard drive of his
computer in his fireplace before police searched his home two years
ago after Perverted Justice publicized the man's solicitation of a
minor. He wasn't charged.
DeLuca rejects the notion that she's taking the law into her own
"I'm just sitting in a chat room. They're the ones contacting me. I'm
not starting any of the sex talk," she said.
DeLuca, who is engaged and has no children, visited the Perverted
Justice Web site after watching a recent "Dateline" special. She
learned how to be a chat room monitor, created a fake Yahoo profile
using a photo of a child actress, and a day later was contacted by
"Paul Robinson," who allegedly turned out to be Katz.
"There was one night a week when his wife wasn't home, and he'd stay
on for hours," said DeLuca. "We'd talk until he had to leave to pick
Each day, she forwarded transcripts to police.
DeLuca, with police guidance, eventually set up a meeting. But before
they could get together, another chat room monitor who was running a
similar sting from Maryland revealed her identity to him, and he was
scared off, DeLuca said.
Nevertheless, the transcripts and Webcam images allegedly depicting
Katz involved in sexual acts while alone were enough to persuade San
Diego County authorities to charge him.
Katz, a casino dealer, did not respond to calls seeking comment. His
lawyer, Ivan Schwartz, declined to comment. Katz is free on bail, and
a status hearing is scheduled May 12.
DeLuca used another fake screen name to pose as a 12-year-old in a
sting that led to the April 2 arrest of Cory A. Renwick, 25, of
Boston, who police said is a registered sex offender in Florida and
Massachusetts, stemming from a 1998 Florida conviction on possession
of child pornography. Renwick pleaded not guilty to enticement of a
child after he allegedly arranged a meeting with DeLuca.
Renwick has no phone listing in Boston. His lawyer, Patrick Sheehan,
would only say: "He feels he's innocent. He looks forward to having it
tried in court."
Cathy Green, a defense attorney based in Manchester, N.H., said many
of the men she has defended in these types of cases were innocent.
Green said the sexual chats are "completely repulsive," but not
"The real question is, are you dealing with a child predator or are
you dealing with someone engaged in a fantasy world who would never
act on it," she said.
An advantage for police, she added, is that an "investigation" begun
by a civilian rather than by law enforcement removes the entrapment
DeLuca says she's partly motivated by a close acquaintance who was
molested, but the perpetrator was never charged. She also says she's
ready to testify if needed in the recent cases. Though she may take a
break before her next sting, she doesn't plan to stop.
"No, I'll still do it, she said. "Who knows who these kids are that
On the Net:
Perverted Justice: http://www.perverted-justice.com/
Corrupted Justice: http://corrupted-justice.com/
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.
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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: You cannot tell who the players are
in this without a scorecard. 'Corrupted-Justice' complains that the
folks at 'Perverted-Justice' are not only vigilantes taking the law
in their own hands, but that the Perverted-Justice investigations and
actions taken are sort of sloppy and misguided. It sort of reminds me
of the disputes -- all too common -- between the various sides on the
problem of spam-scam. Corrupted-Justice would represent (in this
instance) the netters who wring their hands and agree that 'spam is
awful' but that only the experts (like computer forensics experts)
should deal with it; the rest of us are basically incompetent or
unable to deal with the problem 'properly'. Meanwhile, the Perverted-
Justice people keep right on doing their (various) thing(s) ignoring
the complaints of the 'experts'. Where have we heard that before?
If you are going to follow along in this dispute between the two
sides, I suggest you begin, as I did, reading through the various
pages detailing what the http://www.perverted-justice.com people are
doing. You might find their dedication and approach sort of interesting.
But then, after you have read through those pages, by all means go
over and see the answers given by http://corrupted-justice.com which
are also quite convincing. Personally, I tend to come down on the
side of Corrrupted-Justice on this, because, to hear them tell it,
the folks at Perverted-Justice just slap a lot of paint on a wall and
do not really care _where_ the paint gets splattered; nor who gets
hurt in the process. Read the two sides on this and decide who you
think is correct. PAT]