Police surf Net to nab sex predators
Source: The Oakland Press
Date: January 20, 2004
They are already becoming familiar stories - too common. A man is arrested by waiting police officers after he arrives for what the suspect believes is a planned rendezvous with a teenage girl, who actually is an undercover cyberdetective.
Or men are surprised when their sharing of child pornography online is traced to their home computers from investigations that began in areas as far away as California or Canada.
And though similar cases have been highlighted in the media for several years, the predators lurking online don't seem to pay attention to the news, because the number of such arrests is increasing as departments add cyberdetectives to the long list of specialty investigators.
They want to make sure the message is out there: Cybercops are waiting.
Hundreds of such cases are going to court every year, keeping the Oakland County Sheriff's Computer Crimes Unit busy. Meanwhile, several departments have added an online detective, including Southfield and Waterford Township.
Detective Sgt. Frank Mostek of the Waterford Police Department has an idea as to why these familiar stories are repeated.
During a training session in Florida for computer investigations, the federal agent leading the course showed the class a brief sample of browsing chat rooms.
The agent posed as a young teenage girl, 13 or 14, and it didn't take long for the discussions to get to sex: What's your bra size? What color panties are you wearing? Have you ever had sex?
The answer was simple, and one that might scare away most reasonable people: "I'm actually a special agent teaching a classroom full of cops about cyberpredators."
But the response was unexpected. "Ha. Yeah right. So about your sexual preferences ..."
Mostek was struck.
"I thought, 'It can't be that easy,' " Mostek said. "But when you jump online, it's like shooting fish in a barrel."
Mostek said the crimes remain easy to find - even with the seemingly weekly arrests.
But the continuous coverage does not slow down the online predators.
"They don't get it," Mostek said. "As much as we're out there telling people we're coming after you, they're pretty persistent."
Mostek believes it's the anonymity of the Internet.
"I don't think they think they're going to get caught," he said. "Everything is private (online). They're in their own home. They feel invulnerable. Everybody online feels anonymous."
Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca said these crimes are pervasive, having grown from pedophiles who dared to walk parks and school yards.
"You could have a thousand cybersleuths working on cases every moment of the day, seven days a week and 24 hours a day," Gorcyca said. "You could never have enough detectives and prosecutors."
Three cases in recent weeks highlight the similarities of the crimes and the differences of the perpetrators.
In early December, federal and local authorities centered an extensive investigation into online sharing of child pornography on an Independence Township man. Guy Robert Lendrum, 32, was charged with 12 counts of criminal sexual assault, involving infants to preteens.
He is alleged to have shared child pornography with others in five states and Canada. The network is being investigated by federal authorities, and other charges are still being determined. Final results of this case could take years, officials said.
The federal side of this investigation, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's "Operation Falcon," led to several arrests this week on child porn possession in the United States and several European countries. Federal officials followed the credit card payments to companies in Europe, according to The Associated Press.
At least a half-dozen victims - Lendrum's own children and his neighbors - are known to investigators, and the case will likely highlight the sordid environment that allows for the production of child pornography.
Another case that rocked the local area, especially the law enforcement community, involved longtime Oakland County Sheriff's deputy John Gomez, who was arraigned Friday on charges of possessing thousands of images of child pornography.
The 43-year-old appeared to be the standard pillar of the community, a 17-year veteran deputy. But when investigators from California called police in Waterford, where Gomez resides, he became a suspect.
The lengthy investigation took more than a week of Mostek's time to go through the dozens of CDs and the hard drives of the computer, tracking all of the pornography.
The collection included a downloaded movie of a man having sex with an infant girl, who was crying throughout the ordeal.
Lendrum faces life in prison because of the alleged sexual assaults, but Gomez faces only a maximum of seven years in prison. Even that is up from a couple of years ago, because possession of child pornography used to be a misdemeanor.
But the state Legislature is catching up to the new area of crime. Last spring, lawmakers made possession of child pornography a felony and upgraded the laws for seeking out sex from minors online to a 20-year felony.
Another sex case that drew attention involved West Hartford, Conn., business executive John A. Guiliano, who traveled to Southfield in August to meet what he thought was a 15-year-old girl he met on the Internet. Guiliano was actually talking to Southfield police Detective Jim Dziedzic.
Dziedzic said his online investigations have ranged from three online chats to 10 weeks of conversations.
Guiliano, 36, was sentenced to a 1- to 20-year prison sentence. He also was ordered to undergo a year-long sex offender therapy program. He will likely serve several years before being eligible for parole.
Support from his family, charities that he helped, his employer, and Navy officials could not spare him the prison term.
His successful background, as well as the professional standing of Gomez, is a far cry from that of Lendrum, who worked as a ticket-taker for Star Theatres at the Great Lakes Crossing mall in Auburn Hills.
"The individuals who are making those videos are sick and disturbed," Gorcyca said. "After viewing what I saw, it's hard for me to comprehend how any human being can be sexually aroused by that kind of activity."
Gorcyca said it is only a fine line between the ones who make child pornography and those who download.
When entering chat rooms posing as a 14-year-old girl, it is easy to find the sex talk. But investigators want to find more than that.
As Oakland County Sheriff's Detective Jeff Hamm sees it, he wants to find the "right suspect," not the guy who just wants to talk dirty.
"He is going to travel, he wants to meet," Hamm said. "(It seems) everybody wants to talk dirty to a little boy or girl. We want to arrest somebody who wants to molest a kid."
And these investigations always have the suspect starting every aspect of the relationship.
"They initiate the instant messaging," sheriff's Detective Carol Liposky said. "They initiate the talk about sex. They initiate meeting for sex.
"And we have a 100 percent conviction rate."
As to why they keep finding these guys, Hamm quickly sums it up: "They can't help themselves."
That included the investigation by Hamm of a man that lasted four months and included daily online conversations. Richard Henshaw is serving a 21/2- to 20-year sentence in the Florence Crane Correctional Facility in Coldwater.
"(They feel) it's worth taking the risk to have the sexual gratification with an innocent child," Hamm said. "They're sure of themselves. A lot of the guys want a relationship. They really want a relationship with a young child."
And police want to catch these guys before they make someone their victim, as was the case with Jason Tsiricos, a 36-year-old who traveled from England to have sex with a 15-year-old Royal Oak girl.
Jurisdiction included both Royal Oak, where her online communications were based, and Madison Heights, where he stayed in a hotel and where some sexual contact between the two occurred. Tsiricos is serving a 5- to 20-year prison sentence for engaging in child sexually abusive activity and using a computer to commit the crime.
Gorcyca said parents should pay some attention to what their children and teenagers are doing online, even if it requires a random sneak look to monitor the action.
And the work of investigators in this field will only increase, as seemingly everybody has a computer at home or work.
"You have no idea who you are dealing with at the other end of the computer," Gorcyca said.
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