Tuesday, February 12, 2008
7 News Investigations: Out for Justice
We've all heard the horror stories of Internet pedophiles, stalking and talking to children on-line. One South Florida man decided he had enough and did something about it. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero with this special assignment report Out for Justice.
WSVN -- It's how the west was won.
When the law wasn't around, vigilantes made sure the bad guys got what they deserved.
Fast forward 2008. These days vigilantes still take the law into their own hands, but some take their shots on-line.
"Jake:" "I initially started messing around as a 13-year-old."
Meet a man we'll call Jake, a modern-day cyber-vigilante who asked we protect his identity.
"Jake:" "I decided, after watching an episode of "How to Catch a Predator" to go ahead and just mess around on-line, and it kept building up, and I just kept going with it."
Jake pretended to be a 13-year-old girl named "Cyndi" who wanted to learn how to talk to boys. It didn't take long to arouse the interest of a 25-year-old man from Virginia.
"Jake:" "He started off initially saying that, you know, he's a little older and can they just chat."
But chatting soon turned into something more.
"Jake:" "First he wants to teach me how to kiss, then, if he ever comes down, he'll show me, mostly sexual things."
The Virginia man offered to set "Cyndi" up with a second e-mail account, so they could talk without her parents knowing.
Eventually, he offered to have sex with her and her friends.
"If you have any other female friends who want to try having sex for the first time you can invite them over too."
On another day:
"What we can do when I come down is we can have a threesome."
Much of the chats, which went on for a month, are much too graphic for TV. He also sent nude pictures and videos of himself performing sex acts.
"Jake:" "I pretty much tried to get everything I could out of him to post on the Internet. First, I got the pictures, then I got the phone number, then I got the address.
Then he got revenge. Jake posted it all on the Internet and sent links to the man's friends and even his family. But the founder of Perverted Justice, the organization that made outing on-line predators a prime time event, says to do it right takes training.
Xavier Von Erck: "They spend a year working their way up through the organization, so we don't make mistakes."
Carmel Cafiero: "And the experts we talked with say Jake made a lot of mistakes."
First, he thinks he knows who he was communicating with, but, in cyber space, it could have been anyone using the identity of the Virginia man, even an ex-girlfriend out for revenge. It could have been one of those retaliations, I'll get back at you, and that's how it works, so you don't even know who you're talking to, and that's what happens."
BSO Sergeant Joe Weller works with a task force that specializes in Internet predator cases.
Sgt. Joe Weller: "It's irresponsible."
Police wanted to examine Jake's computer to see if they could make a case. But Jake said, "No," because he used his work computer and was afraid he'd be fired.
Xavier Von Erck: "That's not an acceptable excuse."
And because police couldn't investigate, there's no way to know if Jake was communicating with a real predator.
Nancy McBride: "The repercussions, the consequences and the fact that you might be the person who derails an arrest and a prosecution of a real predator, do you want that? Do you want that on your conscience?"
Nancy McBride says if anyone suspects an on-line predator, report him to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Nancy McBride: "This is not for amateurs."
And "Jake" has paid a price. He says he's been threatened by the Virginia man and his father and is concerned they'll track him down.
Despite that, he says he'd do it all again.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children works with law enforcement around the country to help catch on-line predators.
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