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'Cyber-rape' outlawed: N.J. cracks down on computer-aided crime

Date: January 19, 2005
Source: APP.com
By: Kathleen Hopkins

WOOD-RIDGE -- It was a sunny spring day when Trish Barteck was trimming plants in her front yard in this Bergen County community on April 19, 2002.

The youngest of Barteck's three children, a son, then 2, was by her side. A wooden lawn placard of a New York Mets mascot stood guard.

At the corner, a strange man sat in a white sport-utility vehicle, watching. He knew what to look for, right down to the Mets placard.

Barteck didn't know then that the man had ideas of raping her, as the result of a dastardly chat-room plot. Barteck, now 36, felt uneasy about the stranger and called police.

But in the months to come, she would learn that one of her in-laws used an Internet chat room to direct the stranger to her house to rape her. Barteck subsequently embarked on a mission to see that anyone who would put somebody up to such a deed would be successfully prosecuted.

Her mission was accomplished Tuesday when acting Gov. Codey visited her home to sign legislation (A-2864/S-1429) into law.

The measure, inspired by incidents in Bergen and Ocean counties, makes it a crime to use a computer, the Internet or any other electronic means to induce commission of a crime.

A flaw in the law

When Jonathan Gilberti did just that on April 19, 2002, there was no such law in place. So when authorities learned that Gilberti, an in-law of Barteck, hid behind his computer screen, claimed to be a housewife who wanted to be raped, and gave out Barteck's address, physical description, what she would be doing and who she would be with, they were unsure what crime, if any, they could charge him with.

"Trying to fit a computer crime into a standard sexual assault law was difficult," said Sgt. Michael Nevil of the Ocean County Prosecutor's Computer Crimes Unit, which investigated the incidents in the two counties.

Under the law, which takes effect immediately, there would be no question.

"If this bill was on the books, they could have had a criminal statute to prosecute this individual," said state Sen. Paul A. Sarlo, D-Bergen County, whom Barteck had enlisted to sponsor the new law.

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There already was a law making it a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison to lure somebody via computer with the purpose of committing crimes against children, but not against adults, Sarlo said.

As it turned out, Gilberti, 26, also of Wood-Ridge, pleaded guilty in Ocean County to three counts of attempted sexual assault for the incident involving Barteck and a series of similar incidents involving a woman in Beach Haven in Ocean County.

He received a 10-year prison term. But, had the case gone to trial, it could have been tricky for prosecutors to prove the more serious attempted rape charges.

"If you use the Internet to lure someone into committing a crime, it will be illegal," Codey said, signing the law in Bar-teck's living room.

The new law pertains not only to those who use the Internet to lure people to commit sexual crimes, but any crimes whatso-ever, Sarlo said.

Governor lauds courage

Codey said it was Barteck's courage in coming forward with details about her experi-ence, even testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, that brought the need for the measure to the forefront.

"Rather than keeping quiet, she lent her voice to the victims of Internet crime everywhere," Codey said.

Barteck recalled her ordeal again yesterday before a crowd of reporters and staff from the Governor's Office who had gathered in her living room.

"The mental damage was im-measurable," Barteck said. "I had all of my personal (infor-mation) posted on the cyber-space bathroom wall."

When she saw the strange man staring at her from the SUV the day she was gardening, "I knew something wasn't right," Bar-teck said.

She called the police. They re-sponded and questioned the man, who told them he was lost and looking at a map for direc-tions. Barteck insisted police take a report of the incident. They did. The stranger was never charged.

Then, in July of that year, Bar-teck learned that Gilberti had been arrested in a bizarre case in Ocean County.

Investigators with the county's computer crimes unit had learned of Gilberti's online chats on May 7, 2002. Using the screen name, "Naughty Ashley 25," Gilberti had again pretend-ed to be a housewife who had a fantasy of being raped. This time, he gave out the descrip-tion and address of a former neighbor in Beach Haven.

Another unsuspecting man went to the woman's home to fulfill the fantasy, but left after being rebuffed. Gilberti sent out another online message to the dupe saying he had ruined the fantasy and should return to the house. When he did, the woman called police. She, too, was not harmed. That man was not arrested, but his coopera-tion led authorities to unravel Gilberti's plot.

It wasn't until September 2002 that investigators pieced to-gether that Gilberti had set up Barteck the same way months earlier. When investigators told Barteck what they had learned, "I was horrified. I was devastated," she said.

After a year of mental anguish, Barteck said, "Enough is enough," and began her crusade for laws to protect citizens against computer crimes.

"Because of Trish's efforts, the people of New Jersey hopefully will be safer," Sarlo said.

Kathleen Hopkins: (732) 557-5732 or khopkins@app.com


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