Naughton: The American dream turned sour, Part VII

From all outside appearances, Patrick Naughton seemed the personification of the American dream

See also Part VI.

Still, since the program's inception, 424 of the 500 people arrested have been convicted. The evidence against most of them is extremely damaging -- pages of logs that detail their darkest sexual daydreams and expose their attempts to meet their chatroom partners. Most of the accused plead guilty to save themselves from having to reveal their sexual fetishes in a public courtroom. Of the two dozen cases handled by the Los Angeles team that nabbed Naughton, only three have gone to trial. The case involving Naughton -- the most high-profile person caught so far -- was one of them.

Randy Aden, supervisor of the SAFE team for the Los Angeles bureau of the FBI, said the agents frequent chatrooms that are "self-predicating" -- those with titles such as "girls&olderguys" and the now infamous "dad&daughtersex".

"Simply by their names, they're indicative of criminal activity," says Aden, who would not comment specifically on the Naughton case. These chatrooms often carry warnings that they are aimed at those aged 16 and older, and are for fantasy only. Such a warning appeared in "dad&daughtersex".

Unless someone complains, Aden said, agents stay out of more traditional rooms where children gather -- places devoted to dinosaurs, Pokémon, homework and similar topics. That's because there are too many to police. What's more, he notes, "people really don't want the FBI sitting there monitoring what's going on."

Most often, the undercover agents assume the names of young girls and boys. In their chatroom profiles -- Web site pages on which people can catalog personal information and favourite activities -- the officers list hobbies such as cheerleading and gymnastics. Then they sit and wait. Usually, it's only a few minutes before someone approaches them and wants to chat. The questions from the stranger read like a script: How old are you? What do you look like? What are you wearing? And on and on, becoming more sexually explicit with each keystroke. Many send lewd photos.

Naughton followed the formula. He told the court that he used keystroke shortcuts that are common in chatrooms to converse with several people at a time. He would, for instance, type "/old" to yield the question "How old are you?" or "/meas" to ask for measurements. Naughton would run down the list of questions in a systematic manner during his chatroom sessions, waiting for responses. He never chatted with just one person at a time, but would have a few screens open simultaneously.

Agents in the Innocent Images operation correspond with their targets for anywhere from one day to a full year before they make an arrest. Naughton, who took six months to catch, was not unusual in that regard.

FBI officials say the Internet makes it much easier to catch so-called travellers -- the people who make a special trip to meet their online partner. Before the Internet, law enforcers would try to lure suspects using magazines and the US Postal Service, which was a slow and cumbersome process. Chatrooms, on the other hand, allow them to capture suspects quickly using decoys. "It's like fishing in a pond full of hungry fish," said Peter Gulotta, special agent for the Baltimore division of the FBI, which launched Innocent Images. "Every time you put a line with live bait in there, you're going to get one."

In recent years, the FBI has publicised the fact that it patrols chatrooms, but that doesn't seem to have deterred travellers or those who traffic in child pornography. According to Gulotta, the Innocent Images caseload doubled from 1998 to 1999. In 1998, the FBI identified 702 suspects -- those who asked for child pornography or expressed an interest in visiting someone who appeared to be a child. A year later, that number had jumped to almost 1,500. The program's budget has grown as well, to $10m (£6.2m) a year. As more children go online, cops fear the problem will only get worse. "We would be naïve to think that the first time these people got caught was the first time that they travelled to have sex with a child," said Gulotta.

Agents are sensitive to accusations that they are entrapping their targets -- this is the most common claim by defence attorneys in these cases (and one that Naughton also used). The undercover cops don't initiate the chatroom conversation or the sexual talk that follows, Aden said, adding that they go out of their way to discourage their targets. "These individuals are given every opportunity to back out," he said. "We don't send a limo or a taxi for them to come see us. We don't send them a bus or airline ticket. They come to us."

Posing as KrisLA, Applin said that he typed to Naughton that he had told the FBI and the Los Angeles police about their planned encounter, then said he was joking. When Naughton said he was concerned that their meeting was illegal, KrisLA chided him. "You guessed it," KrisLA typed in a warning that Naughton probably wishes he had heeded. "I'm an FBI secret agent."

Naughton would later testify that KrisLA's sophisticated online manner convinced him that "she" was older. "I was pretty confident it wouldn't be a 13-year-old girl," he said. "I turned out to be right."

Most suspects in such cases plea bargain; instead, Naughton hired Anthony Brooklier and Donald Marks, the same high priced attorneys who defended Heidi Fleiss after she had been caught in a prostitution sting. From the start, Brooklier and Marks set out to convince jurors that Naughton thought he was chatting with an adult. Their main arguments: Naughton was in a "fantasy only" chatroom, and he never received a picture or phone call from KrisLA.

See also Part VIII.

See also The trial of Patrick Naughton

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