It's been a remarkable fall from grace for Patrick Naughton.
Six months ago, he was a high-flying Internet executive living in suburban Seattle with his college sweetheart. He was making $183,000 a year as an executive vice president at the Walt Disney Co.-affiliated Infoseek. He had vested stock options worth $15 million. And he had a stellar reputation as the man who launched Sun Microsystems' Java campaign.
Then, on Sept. 14, Naughton flew from Seattle to Los Angeles on a private Disney jet -- and his charmed life fell apart. (See: Naughton pleads guilty.)
Within two days of his arrival in Los Angeles, the high-flying exec, who bragged he partied with actress Reese Witherspoon and Playboy czar Hugh Hefner, was arrested on Santa Monica Pier -- charged with traveling interstate with the intent to have sex with a minor, possession of child pornography and using the Internet to induce a minor into sexual activity.
According to federal investigators, the 34-year-old had been living a secret life. He wasn't just Patrick Naughton, he was "hotseattle," a chat junkie who used the Net to woo a 13-year-old girl with the handle "KrisLA."
By the time he'd posted his $100,000 bail, Naughton's life as a member of the tech elite was virtually over. He called his boss, Infoseek CEO Harry Motro, and was fired, losing his stock options. His wife filed for divorce. He moved into an L.A. apartment -- a world away from his million-dollar Seattle home -- to await his trial. Then, on Dec. 16, after a mistrial, Patrick Naughton found himself in prison -- convicted on the charge of possessing child porn.
After a weekend behind bars -- a weekend he said was like flying from Melbourne to L.A. and back again -- Naughton was free again on bail, and staring down the barrel of a March 21 retrial.
And now this.
On Friday, March 17, Naughton pleaded guilty to the charge that he traveled interstate with the intent to have sex with a minor. He remains free for now, but on June 5 will be sentenced for a crime that carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.
Some may blame the Net for the fall from grace of Patrick Naughton. After all, it let the disgraced exec anonymously chat up KrisLA. Ironically, though, it's that very same anonymity that let the FBI snare its high-profile prize. Where else but on the Net could Bruce Applin, a former Marine turned undercover FBI agent, pass muster as a 13-year-old girl called KrisLA?