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Naughton: The American dream turned sour, Part I

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

The child of Irish immigrants who ran a restaurant in Rochester, New York, Naughton earned 'A's at his Catholic high school while playing on the soccer and hockey teams. He married his college sweetheart and through hard work and the miracle of stock options, graduated from a working-class neighbourhood to a million dollar home in a ritzy Seattle suburb. His social life was punctuated by yacht races, hockey games with Sun Microsystems chief executive Scott McNealy and parties with movie stars.

But it was a dream turned nightmare that found Naughton on the defendant's side of a federal courtroom in December 1999, waiting for a jury to decide his fate. Naughton, a top executive at Disney's Go Network venture, had been arrested on the pier in Santa Monica, California for allegedly crossing state lines with the intent to have sex with a 13-year-old girl. That the girl was not actually a minor but a federal agent posing as one, and that Naughton didn't actually have sex with her -- he simply approached her -- were details for the jury to ponder. As far as the authorities were concerned, Naughton had to answer to charges of travelling to solicit sex with a minor and of possessing child pornography. An unsympathetic verdict would mean that Naughton could spend up to 45 years in jail.

The trial, not surprisingly, rehashed Naughton's rapid rise and dizzying fall. It also spawned a new Web-inspired courtroom defence tactic when his lawyers argued that their client was being punished for having fantasies and engaging in role playing. But even before the proceedings began, Naughton had lost his wife (who filed for divorce), his $183,000 (£113,460) a year job, and more than $15m (£9.3m) in vested stock options.

On the evening of 16 September 1999, a Disney jet carrying Patrick Naughton broke through the Southern California smog and touched down at the airport in Burbank. Naughton asked a colleague for directions to the Santa Monica Pier. He snaked his way through evening traffic on the 405 Freeway, drove past the exit for the Mondrian Hotel (where he had a reservation for that night), and continued for another 18 miles or so on the 10 Freeway, west toward the beach. The highway carried his rented blue Toyota Camry under the generic overpasses that mark the Los Angeles miles, past the hills that lean away from the road, and toward his clandestine encounter.

See also The trial of Patrick Naughton

See also Part II.

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