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FBI task force taking aim at the ‘evil doers’ of the Internet

FBI task force taking aim at the ‘evil doers’ of the Internet
By LAWRENCE BUSER
The Commercial Appeal
MEMPHIS (AP) — It’s taken several months to get to this point and Stephen Lies is worried that the 34-year-old truck driver may be lost.
The driver — Sean22n on the Internet — thinks he’s chatting online with a 13-year-old girl who has agreed to have sex with him at an East Memphis apartment.
“I could tell him exactly how to get here and give him mile markers and exit numbers,” says FBI special agent Lies, seated at a computer keyboard, “but I have to remember I’m 13.”
After several more exchanges between Lies (“It’s pronounced LEES,” he points out with a smile) and Sean22n, who is apparently typing while driving, the trucker pulls his white rig up to the apartment complex and spots a female in an orange University of Tennessee shirt waiting just as “she” had promised in their chats.
Momentarily, however, his date — another agent — walks off and several FBI agents with two-way radios converge on the surprised trucker, Sean Norman of Albuquerque, N.M., who was headed to Florida with a load of tortillas.
Instead of a close encounter with a teenage girl, Norman is arrested and charged with crossing state lines to have sex with a minor.
“He thought it was going to be his best day,” Lies said, stepping from an interview room where Norman talked with agents, “but now it’s turned out to be his worst day.”
On the second floor of the brown unmarked office building and behind doors secured with keypad entry is the clandestine home of the Memphis Crimes Against Children Task Force.
“We could be any age; we could be any sex,” Special Agent Joseph Rinehart says of the various personas the agents create on the Internet. “It may take from one afternoon to a year (to make a case). These guys are swimming around out there like sharks. They’re going to chat rooms to have access to kids. We call them E.D.’s. — ’Evil doers.”’
The task force, which also includes Memphis police, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department, is one of the FBI’s 28 undercover Innocent Images operations that aim to stop online pedophiles and sexual predators.
Since 1995, as easy Internet downloads and chat room meetings replaced mail-order child pornography from Scandinavian countries, more than 10,000 cases have been opened nationally.
“It’s an incredible jump,” said Scott Augenbaum, FBI Cybercrime Supervisor for Memphis and Nashville, a position that did not even exist a year ago.
“Some of the things we have would just make your stomach turn.”
The half dozen members of the task force focus mainly on those who traffic in child pornography, those who try to entice minors to have sex and those called “travelers,” who, like the trucker, actually try to meet with a child to have sex.
“A long time ago we used to say it never hurts to ask, but if you ask a minor, that’s a federal violation in itself,” said federal prosecutor Dan Newsom, who has handled child exploitation cases for more than 30 years. “All you have to have is intent.”
Lies and other agents visit online bulletin boards and chat rooms where pedophiles gather to share images and perhaps meet and groom children for sexual encounters.
The agent’s online 13-year-old female persona was a profile he created in a chat room where the New Mexico truck driver first contacted him in June and eventually asked to meet for sex, according to an affidavit.
Newsom said agents may contact someone online if they are known to have a predisposition toward child pornography or solicitation of minors, but otherwise the agents wait to be contacted by predators and let them initiate any talk of sex.
“You cannot plant that seed in their minds to commit a crime that they were not otherwise predisposed to do,” said Newsom, who has some 40 cases pending.
“That’s the bottom line of entrapment. If they’re ready, willing and able to commit the crime and you just provide them with an easy way to do it, then that’s not entrapment.
“I’ve prosecuted people from 18 to their 80s and every single vocation you can imagine: law enforcement officers to preachers to church workers to lawyers to blue-collar workers to corporate executives.”
“Sometimes we’ll go on a raid, and there’ll be food and cigarette butts by the computer,” said agent Rinehart. “They won’t have a couch or any furniture, but they’ll have an online computer. You can see what their priorities are.”
As for the travelers, sting operations may make them more cautious, but only a bit so.
“Pedophiles are so driven, they’ve said on several occasions (online) ’Hey, I hope this isn’t a setup’ or ’Hey, I know I’m breaking the law, so I hope you’re for real,’ “ said Newsom, “and yet they’ll still come. Even knowing the sting operations are out there and that they may not be dealing with a real child, they’ll show up if there’s just an outside chance that’s what they want.
“People say ’I don’t understand.’ Well, I don’t understand it either, but I see it constantly going on.”
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Information from: The Commercial Appeal, http://www.commercialappeal.com
Published in The Messenger 10.15.07

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