Patrick Naughton pleaded guilty on Friday to a federal charge that he traveled from Seattle to Los Angeles with the intent to engage in a sexual act with a 13-year-old girl. The former Infoseek executive now faces up to 15 years in prison.
Naughton, 34, appeared before US District Judge Edward Rafeedie in Los Angeles and, as part of a plea agreement with the US attorney's office, admitted that he traveled from Seattle to Los Angeles last September with a "dominant purpose" to engage in sexual acts with "KrisLA", an online chat buddy he believed was a 13-year-old girl. KrisLA was actually an undercover FBI agent.
As a part of the plea agreement, the government agreed to dismiss two other charges against Naughton -- using the Internet to induce a minor to engage in criminal sexual activity and possession of child pornography. According to the plea agreement, signed by Naughton on 9 March, the former tech executive "initiated private IRC chats" with KrisLA on 14 and 21 May, 5 and 27 August, and 14 September last year in the "dad&daughtersex" chat room, and discussed "his interest in meeting KrisLA in Los Angeles and engaging in sexual acts with her".
Naughton "believed that KrisLA was, in fact, a 13-year-old girl from Los Angeles". On 14 September, he travelled to California. "A dominant purpose of that trip was to engage in sexual acts with KrisLA," the agreement said.
The Sexual Assault and Exploitation Felony Enforcement Team arrested Naughton on 16 September when he showed up on Santa Monica Pier for a meeting with KrisLA. Rafeedie is scheduled to sentence Naughton, currently free on $100,000 (£62,000) bail, on 5 June.
US Attorney Alejandro N Mayorkas issued a warning to "those who peddle in the abuse of children" after Naughton's court appearance Friday: "We will apprehend you by way of our undercover operations or otherwise. We will prosecute you, and we will convict you."
On 16 December, a trial jury found Naughton guilty of possessing child porn, but deadlocked on the more serious charge of travelling across state lines with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity with a minor. Naughton was set to face a retrial on 21 March.
During the mistrial, Naughton claimed he thought the person he was corresponding with was an adult because so many people role-play in chat rooms. Nearly half the jury believed that defence, although they were convinced that Naughton knew about the child porn found on his computer after his arrest.
However, on 17 December the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that parts of the Child Pornography Protection Act were overly broad and therefore unconstitutional. The court took issue with wording that makes it a crime to possess digital images or videos of people who "appear" to be minors engaging in sexual acts, even if the participants are youthful-looking adults who appear to be under the age of consent.
Law enforcement warns us of the dangers of the Net and how the medium is a new haven for criminals, but the anonymity of the Web cuts both ways. Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment from Randy Barret.