Settlement against NBC Dateline/Perverted Justice – “To Catch a Predator”
June 26, 2008 - Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) - NBC Universal has settled a $105 million lawsuit brought by a woman who
claimed a televised sex sting by "Dateline NBC: To Catch A Predator" drove her brother to kill
himself. "The matter has been amicably resolved to the satisfaction of both parties," said a
statement released by both sides. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
Patricia Conradt's lawsuit had claimed her brother, a suburban Dallas prosecutor, fatally shot
himself after he was accused of engaging in a sexually explicit online chat with an adult posing
as a 13-year-old boy.
The lawsuit claimed NBC "steamrolled" authorities to arrest Louis William Conradt Jr. after
telling police he failed to show up at a sting operation 35 miles away.
NBC was working with the activist group Perverted Justice on the sting, in which people
impersonating children established online chats with men and tried to lure them to a house,
where they were met by TV cameras and police.
In February, a federal judge issued a scathing ruling in the case, saying a jury might conclude
the network "crossed the line from responsible journalism to irresponsible and reckless
intrusion into law enforcement."
U.S. District Judge Denny Chin said the lawsuit contained sufficient facts to make it plausible
that the suicide was foreseeable, that police had a duty to protect Conradt from killing himself
and that the officers and NBC acted with deliberate indifference.
Retrieved June 26, 2008 from http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?
Media Law Professors Blog
April 18, 2008
Excerpts from Judge Chins' ruling:
Dateline was camped outside Conradt's house with cameras and crew, waiting to film his arrest
for a national television show, as a SWAT team entered his home.
... the extent to which the search was necessary to promote a legitimate governmental interest
is debatable. Although there are legitimate reasons for publicizing arrests...the amended
complaint plausibly asserts that many of the police officers' actions were motivated not by a
genuine law enforcement need, but by Dateline's desire for more sensational footage....For
example, on the circumstances presented, a reasonable jury could find that the following
decisions and actions of the police officers were motivated at least in part by Dateline's
Certain other actions also would appear to be deviations from prudent law enforcement practice.
In the operations at the sting house, for example, the police permitted Dateline to interview the
suspects first, before the police interviewed them.
...in his interview with Dateline after Conradt's suicide, the Murphy police chief was willing to
speculate on camera as to what a forensic examination of Conradt's computers might show....
Here, although the amended complaint does not allege that Dateline representatives entered
the house, it does plausibly allege, in substance, that Dateline personnel were "active
participants in planned activity that transformed the execution of [the warrants] into television
entertainment." The amended complaint alleges that the Dateline representatives did not just
have a "passive role, as observers," but that they were involved in the planning, and that, indeed,
they purportedly pushed the police officers into dramatizing their actions for the benefit of the
television cameras. Moreover, the amended complaint alleges that Dateline personnel
trespassed onto Conradt's property.
More importantly, with respect to the suicide, I (Judge Chin) conclude that the amended
complaint alleges sufficient facts to render plausible plaintiff's claims that (1) the suicide was
foreseeable, (2) the police officers had a duty to take steps to protect Conradt from taking his
own life, and (3) the police officers and NBC acted with deliberate indifference and in a manner
that would shock one's conscience."
Significantly, two of the circumstances that give rise to a finding of outrageousness are arguably
present here: NBC was in a position of power, both with its ability to disseminate information to
the public and with its apparent influence over the police, and NBC knew or should have known
that Conradt was peculiarly susceptible to emotional distress and suicide.
In considering whether NBC's conduct was outrageous, a jury could take note of the fact that, as
alleged in the amended complaint, NBC failed to act "ethically" and violated "numerous
journalistic standards."...The reporter-subject relationship is not monitored by statute, but the
profession is guided by self-enforced principles and standards of practice. Although unethical
conduct, by itself, does not necessarily equate to outrageous conduct, the failure to abide by
these journalistic standards may indeed be relevant to the jury's determination of whether
Dateline acted in a reckless and outrageous manner.
...a reasonable jury could find that Dateline violated some or all of these standards by failing to
take steps to minimize the potential harm to Conradt, by pandering to lurid curiosity, by staging
(or overly dramatizing) certain events, by paying Perverted Justice and providing equipment and
other consideration to law enforcement, by failing to be judicious about publicizing allegations
before the filing of charges, by advocating a cause rather than independently examining a
problem, and by manufacturing the news rather than merely reporting it. In light of the
consequences here, an "average member of the community" could find that NBC abused its
-- the power of the press enhanced by the involvement of law enforcement -- in reckless
disregard of Conradt's rights, in a manner that overstepped "all possible bounds of decency."
The case is Conradt v. NBC Universal, 536 F.Supp.2d 380 (S.D.N.Y.2008).
'To Catch a Predator' Police Chief Fired
Top Cop Who Allowed the NBC Show to Film in His Texas Town Was Fired This Week
By Vic Walter, ABC News Online. May 29, 2008.
The police chief of a Texas town that allowed NBC "Dateline's" "To Catch A Predator" to film
stings of alleged sexual predators was fired this week. A city official says the police department's
controversial participation with the sex-sting show had nothing to do with the firing of Chief Billy
Myrick, but that a "change in leadership was necessary."
As ABC News' "20/20" reported last year, the Murphy police department made a deal with
"Dateline" in 2006 to allow NBC camera crews to record stings of alleged Internet sexual
predators and to let people hired by "Dateline" actually set up and run the sting. The production
ended tragically when one of the alleged offenders, an assistant district attorney from a
neighboring county, committed suicide when "Dateline" cameras showed up at his home in the
company of Murphy police after the man failed to show up to the sting house.
Former Murphy police officers told ABC News that the decision to go to the suspect's home was
made at the suggestion of the host of the program, NBC's Chris Hansen.
Then-police chief Myrick denied these claims. "The television network did not take over the law
enforcement operation in no shape, form or fashion," Myrick told ABC News last year. NBC also
has denied it played any role in the decision to go to the man's home and make the arrest, which
involved a SWAT team breaking down the man's door after he did not answer.
As for the 23 other alleged sexual predators arrested in Murphy during production, the district
attorney threw out all the cases saying the police's reliance on "Dateline's" investigation
compromised the evidence obtained.
Myrick, however, at the time insisted that his department behaved properly. "We know we did a
right thing. We went out on a mission to arrest bad people that were here to harm the children of
this community," he told ABC News. "People were coming here because they actually believed
that they were actually talking to a 12- or 13-year-old child. That's it. No different than any law
enforcement mission that we take on every day of the week."
Many in the town disagreed and called for Myrick's immediate resignation because they felt he
mishandled the operation. Now two years later, Murphy City Manager James Fisher, who was
hired this spring, has fired Myrick though he downplayed the fallout from the show, saying it did
not factor into his decision. Myrick could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, the sister of William Conradt Jr., the suspect who committed suicide, is suing NBC
saying the network is to blame for his suicide. NBC previously released a statement saying, "We
think evidence will ultimately show that 'Dateline' acted responsibly and lawfully, and we will
continue to defend ourselves vigorously."
Retrieved June 12, 2008 from http://www.abcnews.go.com/print?id=4956588
From ABC News on-line: Judge OKs Trial in Dateline 'Predator' Suicide Case
Against Alleged Pedophiles
By Brian Ross and Vic Walter Feb. 27, 2008
In a stinging rebuke to the NBC News "Predator" series, a federal judge has given the go-ahead
for a lawsuit blaming the network for the suicide of a Texas prosecutor who was targeted in an
undercover sting against alleged pedophiles.
U.S. District Judge Denny Chin ruled that "a reasonable jury could find that NBC crossed the line
from responsible journalism to irresponsible and reckless intrusion into law enforcement."
The suit was brought by the sister of William Conradt Jr., an assistant district attorney in
Rockland County, Texas, who shot himself in the head after a local police SWAT team,
accompanied by a "Dateline" crew, surrounded his house and moved in to arrest him in
Judge Chin dismissed claims of racketeering, negligence and unjust enrichment against NBC
but said allegations of intentional infliction of emotional distress and certain civil rights violations
could go to trial.
The judge said he concluded there were sufficient facts in the allegations to "render plausible"
the suicide was foreseeable and that "the police officers and NBC acted with deliberate
indifference and in a manner that would shock one's conscience."
"This decision shows law enforcement should never subcontract their uniform, badge and the
oath they take," Bruce Baron, the attorney representing Conradt's sister Patricia in the lawsuit
against NBC Universal, Inc., said. "Patricia looks forward to protecting the constitutional rights
that were trampled upon on that very dreadful day."
Conradt's suicide was at the center of an ABC News "20/20" investigation looking into troubling
questions for both law enforcement and the news media raised by the popular "Dateline" series.
When Conradt did not take the bait to go to the sting house set up by Dateline and Perverted
Justice, a civilian watchdog group hired as a paid consultant by NBC, the decision was made to
go get him at his home in Terrell, Texas.
Conradt's sister Patricia told "20/20" the police broke in and then headed down a hallway to the
bedroom where her brother was waiting for them with a gun in his hand.
"They came in, and they see him," Patricia said. "He says, 'Guys, I'm not gonna hurt anybody.'
And then he put the gun to his head and shot."
William Conradt died shortly after a helicopter called in landed at a Dallas hospital.
Walter Weiss, a former detective with the police department that partnered with Dateline, and
who has since left the force in disgust, told "20/20," "I understand he took his own life, but I have
a feeling that he took his own life when he looked out the door and saw there was a bunch of
television cameras outside."
NBC and the Murphy police, who had partnered with the series, deny NBC played any role in the
decision to make the arrest, which involved a swat team breaking down the prosecutor's door
when he did not answer.
And in a response following the "20/20" broadcast, NBC called the ABC News investigation
"We think evidence will ultimately show that 'Dateline' acted responsibly and lawfully, and we will
continue to defend ourselves vigorously, " NBC News said today in a statement responding to
Judge Chin's ruling.
Retrieved February 29, 2008 from http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/story?id=4353781&page=1
11/06/06 - The Associated Press
Terell, TX - Former Kaufman County District Attorney Louis "Bill" Conradt Jr. killed himself Sunday as police tried to serve an arrest
warrant for soliciting sex with a minor, authorities said.
Police who entered Conradt's home when he refused to answer the door heard a shot and found Conradt fatally wounded with a self-
inflicted gunshot wound. He was pronounced dead at a Dallas hospital.
Murphy police Sgt. Snow Robertson said Conradt had solicited sex from a decoy posing online as a 13-year-old. Murphy police were
attempting to serve a search warrant for his computer and the arrest warrant when Conradt shot himself.
The Dallas Morning News reported in its online editions Sunday that the sting that resulted in Conradt's arrest warrant was a joint
operation between Perverted Justice, an Internet watchdog group, and NBC's "Dateline" that lured men seeking sex with children to a
house in Murphy.
Murphy police said Conradt had not gone to the house there but they believed he would. Robertson said there was nothing police
could to do prevent Conradt's death. "When somebody decides to do this, there is nothing you can do," he said.
Conradt had worked for the Kaufman County District Attorney's Office for more than two decades before giving up the position of
district attorney to run an unsuccessful campaign for judge. He was chief felony assistant district attorney for Rockwall County.
Murphy Mayor Bret Bishop told the newspaper that he hopes Murphy won't be used again as a trap for child predators."We're going to
do whatever we need to do to make sure this doesn't continue," he said. "I think it's a noble cause, but our police department is hired
to serve and protect our citizens, and not to expose them to outside threats."
From www.radaronline.com. 09/07/06. Radar Investigates. By John Cook.
Xavier Von Erck dropped out of college, started a pedophile-hunting vigilante group, and spent months posing as a woman to trick an
online enemy to fall in love with him. Meet the new savior of NBC News.
As NBC gears up for fall, no doubt full of hope that it can avoid a third consecutive season as the fourth-place network, you're likely to
see a lot of familiar faces plastered on the sides of buses: Meredith Vieira, Brian Williams, Steve Carell, Donald Trump. One face you
won't see, however, belongs to a 27-year-old community college dropout from Portland, OR, who is responsible for an NBC ratings
phenomenon that has eclipsed or matched those stars' shows: His cunning idea, which makes for endlessly watchable and deeply
nauseating television, regularly doubles Today's audience, draws more viewers than both the Nightly News and The Office, and
nearly tied The Apprentice in audience last season, a tonic that NBC desperately needs as it founders in the ratings.
sexual depravity of drooling, sweaty creeps that periodically hijacks Dateline NBC during sweeps months. Xavier Von Erck—if the
name sounds invented, that's because it is, but more on that later—is the founder and public face of Perverted Justice, an all-
volunteer online organization that seeks to expose adults who troll chat rooms looking for youngsters to have sex with. Its members
do this by posing as 12- or 13-year-olds online, engaging in sexual banter with older men, setting up meetings purportedly for sex,
and then, after verifying a target's identity, posting his name and personal details online and encouraging readers to call his family
and employer to let them know what he's been doing with his free time.
But it's not only predators who have found themselves duped and publicly disgraced by Von Erck. He once set out to destroy an
enemy by posing as a woman, seducing him online with graphic sex chats, posting the transcripts on the web, and threatening to
release a purported video of his target masturbating—not the kind of behavior you'd expect from NBC News's golden boy.
X-MAN: Von ErckVon Erck, who previously worked tech support jobs, launched Perverted Justice in 2003. "I was a chatter in the
Portland Yahoo regional rooms," he tells Radar in an e-mail. "I, like many, had the notion that individuals going online to solicit kids
would be arrested, that cops were all over the chatrooms monitoring things. However, week after week passed and the same guys
who would mass-post things like, 'Any 14-to-15-year-olds in here want to make money modeling?' and other solicitations would still
be there. It was disturbing." He figured that if he could pretend to be a kid, he could embarrass the lurkers and make every potential
predator paranoid about contacting children online.
Perverted Justice initially limited itself to publicizing the names and contact information of its targets on the website. Eventually, local
news crews in Portland and elsewhere began collaborating with Von Erck to set up sting operations—drawing perverts to a rented
house, filming them as they approached, and using the footage to scare the shit out of parents during sweeps. It was, at best, a
mediocre gimmick suitable for mid-market local news until Dateline hit on the idea that would make "To Catch a Predator" a cultural
touchstone: Set up a pompous correspondent inside the house to interview the startled pervs and make them sweat. With smarmy
host Chris Hansen onboard, the show takes on the classic elements of Aristotelian drama. First, viewers feel pity for the marks, who
slowly come to understand before our eyes that they've just wrecked their lives; next comes fear, enhanced by creepy graphics and
hard-to-prove statistics indicating that everybody on the Internet wants to molest your daughter; and finally we experience a satisfying
sense of purgation as each sucker is taken violently to the ground by local police waiting outside the house.
Even by the bug-eating, race-baiting, promiscuity-celebrating standards of reality television, "To Catch a Predator" is monstrously
exploitative—a Television Age Roman coliseum where freakish criminals are publicly humiliated for bloodsport and ratings. Granted,
these are bad men, and it's a good thing they are being stopped, hopefully, from hurting actual children. But they can be stopped—
and are stopped all the time by local police stings—without parading them across our television screens for titillated and enraged
audiences to gawk at between commercial breaks.
And, of course, "To Catch a Predator" is not reality television. It's produced under the auspices of NBC's vaunted news division, which
has gone to unprecedented lengths to secure Von Erck's ongoing cooperation, reportedly paying him in excess of $100,000 per
episode for his services, and even giving him, according to one source, a cut of any revenue from future DVD sales of the shows. That
arrangement, and the show's sensationalism, make some at the network squirm.
"I think it's fascinating television," says one former NBC News producer who loathes the show but often can't look away. "Although I
find myself rooting for the pedophiles."
Not much is known about Von Erck's background. He's cagey in interviews—he agreed to talk to Radar only via e-mail—and doesn't
reveal much personal information for fear of being targeted by one of the men he has exposed. He was raised in Portland by his
mother, who struggled to support the family by working odd jobs—from Taco Bell to a gas station—and moved 12 times before his
junior year of high school. He was the captain of his high school's mock trial team, and he continues to demonstrate a facility for
debate and rhetoric on his blog, Angry German, where he alternates between charming posts about his love of Portland, video
games, and professional wrestling, and vicious, unhinged screeds against various targets. Some of Von Erck's rants betray a hint of
the sadism that informs "To Catch a Predator." After a spate of kidnappings and beheadings in Iraq in 2004, Von Erck wrote that he
was "positively appalled at Nicholas Berg," who "kneeled meekly and struggled naught [sic] as his death was thrust upon him ...
bending to the will of the kidnappers." He was even more enraged by the "shameless and pathetic" conduct of Kim Sun-il, a
kidnapped South Korean translator who appeared in a video released by Iraqi insurgents (he was later beheaded). "The asshole,
yes, the asshole, screamed in English, pleading for his life," Von Erck wrote. "Let me be the first and probably only American to wish
for his speedy death.... No life of such a worm, a coward, can be considered important." Of 9/11 conspiracy theorists, Von Erck had
this to say: "I wish I could fucking kill 9/11 conspiracy theorists. Yes, kill. I'd like to kill them. Kill them all... I want you to die. I wish you
would die. Why don't you die? Just die."
Von Erck's birth name is Phillip John Eide. Although he legally changed it earlier this year in a Portland court, he says he has gone by
Xavier Von Erck since he was 15. Erck is his mother's maiden name, to which he added the "Von" in a nod to his German heritage.
"Xavier" he just picked. "My old name was the name my father gave me," he says. "Being that my father had no role in my upbringing,
as a teen I did not see the logic in being stuck with his name. So I took my mother's name as a tribute to her, and a new first name."
(In the Perverted Justice world, where anonymous volunteers going by handles like Epiphany and Peppermint Patty pretend to be
children online, identity is a tricky thing to nail down. Von Erck's longtime friend and roommate, formerly known as Nicholas Wilkins,
has also legally changed his name to his online handle, Phoebus Apollo.)
Von Erck briefly attended Mt. Hood Community College before dropping out in the face of what he called a "productive Internet
addiction." He then worked various tech support jobs while building up Perverted Justice; now, running the website and coordinating
Perverted Justice's role in the Dateline busts is his full-time job. As for how and why he made a career of humiliating perverts, Von
Erck is demure: "The site has grown and evolved because people have come to it and suggested ideas, come up with technological
improvements, etc. I just organize and direct it. I try not to take credit for the site succeeding, the credit goes to how pervasive the
problem is online and how dedicated people are toward fighting it."
Nevertheless, Perverted Justice has many enemies. There are websites devoted to attacking Von Erck and his nameless volunteer
corps, and to outing and identifying the people who conduct Perverted Justice's stings. These anti-PJ activists describe themselves
as combating vigilantism and what they see as the group's entrapment tactics.
According to an account posted by Von Erck, one of Perverted Justice's fiercest critics was a 44-year-old software developer from
Searcy, AR, named Bruce Raisley. Raisley was a frequent poster to a forum at an anti-PJ site called Anti-Vigilante Special Operations
(AVSO) and he posted several threatening and seemingly deranged comments to the site. He claimed, among other things, to have
written a virus that he would unleash upon Perverted Justice volunteers, and used his computer skills to harass Perverted Justice
members by exposing the online handles they used when posing as children and tracking down their real identities. He once
threatened, during an IM chat, to "fuck or beat" one Perverted Justice activist if he ever met him (Raisley thought he was
communicating with a woman at the time). It's unclear why Raisley, a private pilot and ham radio enthusiast, was so militantly
opposed to Perverted Justice. He has claimed he was once a Perverted Justice member but broke with the group after another
member found a photograph of Railey's son online and used it in a decoy Yahoo profile—in other words, used his son as bait for
perverts. Perverted Justice denies this.
Von Erck claims he contacted local authorities in Arkansas and the FBI about Raisley but they "simply weren't moving fast enough for
my tastes, considering how bold he was getting about his threats." So he decided to mete out his own form of perverse justice,
introducing himself to Raisley online, via instant messenger.
He called himself "Holly."
Holly and Raisley hit it off. They conducted a months-long correspondence via IM, and gradually, Raisley fell in love with his new
online pal. Holly would occasionally inquire about Raisley's anti-Perverted Justice activities, but eventually the conversation turned to
[Raisley]: what r u doing?
[Holly]: I have my fingers in
[Raisley]: i am holding it
[Holly]: are you rubbing it
[Raisley]: r u rubbing your clit?
[Holly]: yes. it feels so good baby
The couple had cybersex twice. Holly repeatedly begged Raisley to masturbate in front of a webcam for her. Raisley told her about his
son, his job, his role as a Boy Scout troop leader. Eventually, Raisley came clean to his wife about Holly, told her that they were in
love, and declared that Holly was moving to Arkansas. After securing an apartment for the two of them to live in, he went to pick up
Holly at the airport. He was carrying flowers.
Von Erck never got on the plane, but he did find someone to go to the airport at the appointed time to snap a picture of a hopeful
Raisley waiting for his love to arrive. Then he posted it online, along with the entire text of their chat and a threat to release a video file
he claimed showed Raisley masturbating. And then this message to Perverted Justice's detractors: "[W]hen you attempt to threaten
members of Perverted-Justice.com... this can happen to you. Tonight, Bruce Raisley stood around at an airport, flowers in hand,
waiting for a woman that turned out to be a man. He's not in love. He has destroyed his relationship with his wife, he has denigrated
her, and he has betrayed all those around him. He has no one. He has no more secrets. We at Perverted-Justice.com will only
tolerate so much in the way of threats and attacks upon us."
Today, Von Erck professes sympathy for his victim. "As much as I hated Bruce Raisley for what he tried to do," he says, "I felt bad for
him in the sense that the guy definitely has some mental issues. My hope is that Raisley gets mental health help, he sticks with his
wife, and they live a happy, threatening- and harassing-free life. The head game that was played with him was only done in order to
'knock him out' so to speak."
Raisley was indeed knocked out. A call to his home in Arkansas was answered by a woman who said she was his wife. "That was
just a big old mess," she said. "He's already lost one job over this, and he doesn't want anybody to know about it. I'm just hoping this
will just fade away." Though she would not comment on the accuracy of Von Erck's online account, she admitted having read it.
Von Erck is not the first strange man—and pretending to be a woman for the purposes of seducing a man over a period of months in
order to publicly ruin him is nothing if not strange—that NBC News has worked with in order to gather the news. But the extent of the
network's business relationship with Von Erck has raised eyebrows in the halls of NBC News.
According to an April Washington Post story, Perverted Justice was paid a "low six figures" consultancy fee to organize a sting
operation for Dateline in Ohio. Sources knowledgable about the inner workings of NBC confirm that account, and say NBC is paying
the group between $100,000 and $150,000 per show. According to one current NBC News staffer and one former NBC official, the
figure was arrived at after Perverted Justice saw the ratings success of its first three Dateline shows and retained the services of
Steve Sadicario, a former ABC News executive and agent with NS Bienstock, a firm that represents Bill O'Reilly, Anderson Cooper,
and Dan Rather. Sadicario, according to the sources, started a "bidding war" for Perverted Justice's services after shopping an idea
for a show to Fox and ABC. NBC won.
The deal that Perverted Justice cut with NBC is unusual in two respects: For one, according to the former NBC News official, it was
negotiated by the network's entertainment lawyers, not by the news division's legal staff. Secondly, according to an NBC News staffer,
Perverted Justice is entitled to a portion of any revenue from DVD sales of "To Catch a Predator" episodes—an arrangement
common in the entertainment world but unheard of in the context of a news division's relationship with a consultant.
The staffer notes, "It would be the first back-end deal in the history of journalism."
It's not hard to see why NBC would go to great lengths to keep Von Erck in its stable, and to ride the "To Catch a Predator"
phenomenon as far as it can. So far, the original broadcasts have averaged 9.2 million viewers, beating out such entertainment-
division staples as Will & Grace (with an average of 8.6 million viewers last season) and The Office (7.9 million). In the advertiser-
friendly 18-to-49-year-old demographic, "To Catch a Predator" episodes ranked 16 among NBC's 41 regularly broadcast shows last
season, beating Scrubs and Fear Factor. While it's a special edition of Dateline NBC, rather than a show in its own right, it was one of
NBC's few successful new offerings last season. Only Deal or No Deal, Surface, and My Name Is Earl outperformed it in the 18-to-49-
Both Von Erck and David Corvo, executive producer of Dateline, who submitted to a brief interview and did not return subsequent
phone calls, say they are unaware of plans for a DVD, and both say they don't know if Perverted Justice would get any portion of the
revenues if a DVD were sold. Sadicario did not return repeated phone calls.
Both NBC and Von Erck declined to discuss specifics of the deal, and Von Erck says that "by and large," he hasn't seen any of the
NBC money yet. (He told Willamette Week in May that he'd only been paid $20,000 so far.) But if Perverted Justice is getting paid more
than $100,000 per sting, it has earned more than $400,000 since April.
"It was getting expensive," Von Erck says. "We literally could not keep our website up anymore due to the site traffic. At that point it was
either no more Datelines or a consultation fee. At the end of the day, the cameramen were getting paid, Chris Hansen was getting
paid, the producers of Dateline were getting paid, the police were paying themselves via public funds to do the arrests, the guy who
owns the house was getting compensated, the security there was being paid. So it was only natural to seek compensation for the
expensive work that we do."
Asked to outline the expenses involved in operating Perverted Justice, Von Erck cites only server costs to handle traffic driven to the
group's website by the exposure on Dateline and "confidential" expenses associated with the stings. Perverted Justice has no paid
staff and no offices. In fact, it is not even a legal entity. Von Erck says he is in the process of incorporating it as a nonprofit, but claims
not to know in which state. Von Erck says he is not personally being paid by NBC and claims not to know precisely to whom NBC is
making out the checks.
The arrangement, and the fact that the shows involve cooperation with law enforcement, has some NBC News staff apoplectic.
"We've crawled into bed with the cops. People think this will be the pickup truck for the new decade," says one Dateline producer,
referring to the notorious episode in 1993 in which Dateline was caught faking exploding gas tanks in GM trucks. "One of these guys
is going to go home and shoot himself in the head. The Perverted Justice people are insane, and they'll do something to embarrass
us. One of the biggest corporations in the world ought to find a better target than skanky guys in shorts."
"There's no doubt," says another NBC News staffer, "that somewhere down the line, some district attorney is going to ask us for
outtakes or footage from a story, and we're going to say, 'We don't do that because we don't want to be an agent of the police.' And
he's going to say, 'You did with "Predator." There is a sense [in the news division] that standards don't matter."
Indeed, the network has already been confronted with such a dilemma: In one prosecution that resulted from a Dateline sting, that of
Rabbi David Kaye of Rockville, MD, the defense issued a subpoena for the unedited footage of Kaye's conversation with Chris
Hansen. NBC's lawyers filed a motion to quash the subpoena, according to Kaye's attorney, in which they signaled their intent to
argue that as a news organization they should be shielded from having to reveal the products of newsgathering. But it would be
incoherent of NBC to assert its independence when it comes to judicial subpoenas at the same time it invites police officers to
participate in its newsgathering efforts. NBC's lawyers quickly realized this and agreed to make the unedited footage available for
download on the Dateline website. If the network published it for the world to see, the twisted logic went, it could avoid the unpleasant
prospect of defending in court the very principle of independence that it had sacrificed on the screen. (On September 6, Kaye was
convicted in federal court of enticing a minor and crossing state lines for illicit sex with a minor.)
It's not just NBC staff that finds fault with "To Catch a Predator." Brad Russ, the former commander of the Internet Crimes Against
Children Task Force (ICAC) for Northern New England, a federal program designed to help local authorities fight child pornography
and Internet predators, has participated in many online sting operations. "I have a real problem with any citizens' group conducting
any investigation into any crime," he says. "It's a mistake for law enforcement to abdicate its responsibility to citizens." And NBC, he
says, is playing with fire by drawing potentially dangerous men to residential neighborhoods and confronting them. "How would you
feel if the media rented a house in your neighborhood and drew 30 people who've demonstrated a propensity for children to your
house? What happens when they flee at a high rate of speed and they T-bone your wife's car? We would never set up a sting in a
residential neighborhood." Russ adds that targets could be armed, and that an ICAC officer in Florida was shot and killed during a
Kimberly Mitchell, a researcher for the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, has studied
both the efficacy of Internet stings and the risks that children face online. While she says properly conducted stings by law
enforcement are a useful tool, she worries that "Predator" overstates the problem. "We've talked to kids, and I think [sexual
solicitations online] are something they've come to expect to happen," she says. "It's fairly common for them to see these things and
experience them." In fact, according to Mitchell's research, fully two thirds of children who were solicited online last year brushed off
the incident, and only four percent of children who regularly used the Internet received "distressing" solicitations. "On the one hand,"
Mitchell says, "it's good that people are aware. On the other hand, it's blown very far out of proportion—it's extreme. It tells you one
small piece of the story. It can distort the truth and present this false fear."
NBC and Perverted Justice are in the process of filming more stings for this season. "They have a whole fresh new bunch for
September," says the Dateline producer. "Several weeks' worth. There are a lot of people who would like to see it as a show."
But if initial reports from the unaired stings are any indication, a new series based on "Predator" wouldn't last long. One of the key
elements of "Predator" segments is Chris Hansen's "and you won't believe ... " moment, when the predator turns out to be a teacher,
a lawyer, a rabbi. It's a message that plays well to the upscale audience NBC caters to. These people could be your neighbors. But
according to an NBC News staffer, the stings have become a victim of their own success. "What I heard was that they had a tough
time of it," the staffer says. "The smarter predators have figured it out. You're not getting the rabbis, doctors, and teachers. You're
And losers, as the former NBC News official put it, "aren't in the demo."
Retrieved September 7, 2006 from http://www.radaronline.com/features/2006/09/strange_bedfellows.php
The ABC Channel 15 affiliate in Phoenix, AZ conducted a cybervigilante case that did not have a favorable outcome in court.
Court limits TV-sex-sting charges - Without teen victim, prosecutors face an added hurdle
By Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services, Tucson, Arizona, Published: 05/25/06
PHOENIX — Reporters pretending to be teens on the Internet to lure adults may be great television. But the Arizona Supreme Court
ruled Wednesday it isn't enough to get their targets arrested.
In a unanimous decision, the justices concluded people lured to meet with what they think are teen girls can't be charged if it turns
out the person doing the luring is not a minor, but in fact a TV reporter — or any other adult, for that matter. The court concluded
charging someone with seeking out a minor for sexual purposes, by definition, requires an actual minor.
The only exception, they said, is if the person doing the luring is a police officer.
Wednesday's decision does not bar TV stations from what has become a popular tactic, especially during rating periods. In fact,
news directors from two TV stations that have been involved in such reporting said they don't intend to abandon such efforts.
"It's not going to stunt, in any way, how we aggressively pursue stories we believe are important to our viewers," said Joe
Hengemuehler. His station, KNXV-TV 15 in Phoenix, did the story that led to someone being arrested, and produced the case heard
by the court.
Brad Stone, at KVOA-TV 4 in Tucson, said a story done by his station in conjunction with Perverted Justice, a volunteer organization
dedicated to outing online predators, got one of the biggest reactions ever from parents who did not realize the kind of people their
children could meet on the Internet. "Parents were afraid of leaving their kids alone," he said.
Stone said his station's efforts involved a bit more than luring, with people also sending naked pictures of themselves to what they
thought were teens. But David Bodney, a media attorney, said the logic of Wednesday's ruling on luring statutes indicates the need
for an actual minor as a victim probably would also apply to cases where people thought they were sending photos to teens. Without
an actual teen as a victim, there is no crime, he said.
Barnett Lotstein, a special assistant Maricopa County attorney, said those TV "sting" operations may still have some use for
prosecutors: Lotstein said his office will now charge the man whose indictment was tossed out by Wednesday's ruling with the crime
of attempted luring — a crime the court decision suggests could be prosecuted without a real teenage victim.
The case against Jeremy Mejak stems from actions three years ago by a Phoenix television reporter who, pretending to be a 13-year-
old girl, engaged in conversations in "chat rooms" as part of an investigation to show how the Internet can be used to seek out
minors for sex. According to court records, Mejak chatted online with the reporter, believing her to be a teen, and set up a meeting to
have sex with her. When he showed up, though, he was greeted with video cameras.
Police were given copies of the tapes and transcripts of the online chat, resulting in the Maricopa County Attorney's Office taking the
case to a grand jury and securing an indictment. When a trial judge refused to throw out the case, Mejak appealed. Justice Michael
Ryan, writing for the high court, pointed out that the law says it is illegal for someone to lure someone that the person knows or has
reason to know is a minor.
"The use of the phrase 'is a minor' suggests that the crime cannot be committed without the luring of an actual minor," Ryan wrote.
He pointed out that lawmakers created only one exception. Someone can still be charged if the person being lured is "a peace officer
posing as a minor."
The justices rejected arguments by prosecutors that Mejak's conduct fell under the provision which said he had "reason to know" the
person with whom he was chatting was a minor, as based on his own belief. "Although a person may subjectively believe something
that is not true, as Mejak did, Ryan said it is entirely different to have knowledge or a reason to know a fact."
But Ryan also said given the facts of this situation, a person could legally be charged with attempted luring or attempted sexual
conduct with a minor. Michael Terribile, Mejak's lawyer, said he concurs with that legal conclusion but said he will still attempt to get
any new charges against his client dismissed on other grounds.
Retrieved May 26, 2006 http://www.azstarnet.com/sn/pringDS/130701
Charges May Follow Sex Sting
NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. March 5, 2004 - Prosecutors are investigating whether charges should be filed against a Philadelphia TV
news channel that lured several men seeking sex with teenagers to a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood a half-mile from an elementary
Residents of this Philadelphia suburb are in an uproar over the local NBC affiliate's ratings-week story in which the station teamed
with an Internet vigilante group to lure three men to a beige Cape Cod house the station rented so its reporters could surprise the
men on camera.
The men, lured on Internet chat sites, were expecting to have sex with 14-year-old girls, who didn't exist. Police said they were not
aware of the station's plans, and community leaders, residents and school officials are outraged that potential pedophiles were
brought in to the community in an uncontrolled situation.
"These pedophiles were given an address in our township, and they were coming to the front door in a neighborhood that was just
loaded with children," Newtown Township Police Chief Lee Hunter said Thursday. "We haven't had that danger until they brought
them into our community."
The NBC affiliate, WCAU-TV, released a statement that said no one was placed in danger by the story. The nearby parochial school,
St. Anastasia School, told parents not to let their children walk home this week, and police added six patrol cars to the neighborhood
Principal Carol Cary said two of her students live only two doors away from where the men were lured. More than 300 community
members attended a meeting Wednesday night to vent outrage. Hunter said "you can just about bet on it" that civil suits will be filed
against the TV station by the township or community groups.
The station said it was "proud of its report." "Child predators on the Internet are a huge problem, of which every parent should be
acutely aware," the statement said. One St. Anastasia parent said she thought the news story was well-intentioned but poorly
"They should have notified the police, because now we're scared to death," said Chris Antonini, who instructed her 9-year-old
daughter this week not to speak with any strangers. Police said they would have shut down the operation had they been notified.
TV news stations in at least seven other major cities nationwide have used the child sex stings to generate stories, often, like the
WCAU-TV report, during ratings sweeps week. WCAU spokeswoman Eva Blackwell declined to comment on whether the story was
specifically for the ratings sweeps week.
"This was all about money, all about ratings," said Jerry Esterson, business manager for St. Anastasia School. "For money they put
children and our community in jeopardy. Money is not worth that."
The stations got help from the Web site www.pervertedjustice.com to execute the stings. Bob Steele, a media ethics specialist at the
Poynter Institute, said news stations need to carefully evaluate the dangers of doing stories where deception is used.
"To undertake a story of this nature, you have to ask some very significant questions about potential consequences," Steele said.
"What could happen when these alleged perpetrators show up at this house? Could there be violence? ... The fact that it's near a
school in this particular case does heighten the problem nature of it."
The district attorney's office is investigating whether WCAU-TV violated any laws. Joseph Brielmann, assistant district attorney for
Delaware County, called the station's actions "irresponsible and dangerous."
Retrieved March 8, 2004 from http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/news/3504-
NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. (AP) - The TV news report is hard to ignore: An unsuspecting man goes to a house where he allegedly
thinks a teenage girl is waiting to have sex with him, but instead he is met by a TV reporter with a camera and microphone. TV news
directors say the ratings week reports, which have been done in several cities around the nation, raise awareness about the growing
problem of Internet-based exploitation of children. They say viewer response is overwhelming and almost entirely positive.
But federal and local law enforcement officials say the reports and the groups that help facilitate them do more harm than good
because the "stings" don't lead to convictions and may put people in danger.
"Even well-intended grass-roots undercover investigators can create more harm than good, and we firmly believe that law
enforcement investigations should be left to trained law enforcement officials," said Michelle Collins, director of the exploited child
unit for the National Center for Missing &
This past week, NBC affiliate WCAU-TV of Philadelphia lured three men allegedly seeking sex with teenagers to a rented house less
than a half-mile from an elementary school in the small Philadelphia suburb of Newtown Square. Police were not notified of the
The local district attorney is investigating whether the station broke any laws. WCAU defended its report. "Child predators on the
Internet are a huge problem, and NBC 10 helped raise public awareness of this issue," WCAU vice president of news, Chris
Blackman, said in a statement. "In covering this story, NBC 10 believes that no one was put in danger and the station conducted itself
About a half-dozen other stations around the country have teamed with the vigilante group Perverted Justice to run similar "stings."
Volunteers go into Internet chat rooms and pose as young teens. When men contact the "teens," the group's Web site posts their
sexually explicit conversation and often the men's pictures and phone numbers.
FBI spokeswoman Linda Vizi said the stings don't help law enforcement because evidence isn't collected in a legal way. Other law
enforcement officials have said the "stings" can compromise
"To lure them to some place and post their picture somewhere doesn't stop what they're doing. You're not going to embarrass these
guys into stopping," Vizi said. Several people have been arrested after tips from Perverted Justice or from the TV news reports but
Vizi said arrests don't necessarily translate into convictions.
Vizi also said the TV crews may not be prepared if the lured men turn violent.
And Tom Bivins, a media ethics professor at the University of Oregon, said the stations' tactics are questionable.
"Is it necessary to entrap these people to get the story or could you simply report the story?" Bivins said. "Once you get involved, you
become part of the story instead of reporting the story."
Regent Ducas, news director of KCTV in Kansas City, which did a series in February, said his station held lengthy discussions about
the value and risks of such a story. Two former police officers were hired for security at the house rented for the sting, he said.
Sixteen men showed up, Ducas said. He said the report drew the station's highest ratings in a decade and showed that police are
overwhelmed by the problem.
"We were hoping that our story would start the conversation, should police officers start reallocating resources? Is it time to start
treating this problem much more seriously than in the past?"
Ducas said. At least one arrest was made because of a series last month by WDIV in Detroit.
"The idea behind it was protecting kids and the awareness of parents," said WDIV assistant news director Bob Ellis. "The story is so
outrageous, it's one of those things that's hard to believe until you see it happen. It's scary when you see it as a parent."
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer, AP OnlineSaturday, March 06, 2004 3:37:00 PM
EVANSVILLE - An Evansville man has filed a lawsuit against WTVW-Fox7, claiming the television station's news department
incorrectly identified him as a man arrested on child pornography and molestation charges.
The suit, filed March 3, accuses the station and its parent company of defamation of character, negligence, false-light publicity and
intentional infliction of emotional distress. "They ruined my life," Hayes said in an interview Thursday. "I lost my job. I've been
threatened and harassed. I've been afraid to go anywhere."
The suit claims that on Dec. 2, WTVW aired a report about a man arrested for allegedly forcing a 13-year-old boy to perform sex acts
that were videotaped and uploaded onto the Internet. According to the suit, WTVW named Hayes as the suspect and showed his
picture on TV even though he was not the suspect arrested.
The real suspect was John Thomas Hays, a 28-year-old Madisonville man, who had been arrested and was sitting in the Hopkins
County, Ky., jail. "They can't say we look alike," said Jayson Hayes, who is black. "That other guy is white."
Hayes and his attorney, Andrew G. Jones of the Indianapolis law firm of Haskin, Lauter & LaRue, said they've been unable to get FOX
7 management or the station's attorney to explain how the mix-up occurred. FOX 7's general manager Edwin Hill declined to
comment on the case, saying he couldn't talk about it while there was pending litigation. The station has yet to file a written response
to the lawsuit.
Jayson Hayes said he's been on the defensive ever since the report was broadcast. "I thought, 'What am I going to do?'" he said. "You
know when something's on the news, people automatically think it's true." He said the report cost him his job as a barber, not
because his employer didn't believe that he was innocent, but because he was afraid customers who'd seen the broadcast wouldn't
Hayes said WTVW ran a retraction of the story the following day, but by then, the damage was done, he said. "I called a friend and
said, 'Did you see the correction? Now do you think people will believe me?' And he said, 'Are you kidding? Nobody saw that.'"
It's been more than three months since the incident occurred, but Hayes said his life is still not back to normal and doubts if it will be
any time soon. He said he's had a difficult time finding employment, and that he avoids public places. He's since grown a beard; what
he calls "my disguise."
By MAUREEN HAYDEN, Courier & Press staff writer, (812) 464-7433 or email@example.com
March 13, 2004,
Retrieved March 15, 2004 from http://www.courierpress.com/ecp/gleaner_news/article/0,1626,ECP_4476_2726356,00.html
Cyber-vigilantes or lynch mob? A citizens' group seduces men into lurid chat with "underage" girls -- and makes them pay
From phoenixnewtimes.com. July 15, 2004. by Susy Buchanan
For those who play the game of catching online perverts, Raymond Dooley was the perfect villain. That is, exactly the type of guy the
cyber-vigilantes at Perverted-Justice.com were looking for. Perverted-Justice found Dooley in late January in an online chat room --
where the 23-year-old Michigan man entered into a conversation with a guy supposedly named Jason Delaney. The banter got
graphic. Dooley made plans to meet Delaney for sex. Only he thought Delaney was a girl named Rachel. It was all a setup. When
Dooley showed up the next day at the appointed time and place, he was met with a television camera. Police later arrested him for
"use of computer/Internet to communicate with another to attempt to commit criminal sexual conduct," and he was convicted last
month. Dooley is awaiting sentencing and could face 20 years in prison. Although there's nothing criminal about discussing sex with
another adult, apparently there is if the adult on the other end of the computer is pretending to be a 14-year-old girl. Here's a portion of
the chat log -- posted on the Perverted-Justice Web site -- between Dooley and Delaney (as Rachel):
Dooley: I'm going to make you come all day long.
Dooley: Better not let your mom get a hold of those panties. She'll probably be able to smell cum all over 'em and think something's
Dooley: In fact, just don't wear any. lol.
Rachel: OK, lol.
Dooley: So could I ask a favor of you tomorrow?
Dooley: Do you have any really short skirts and really small tops?
It was a trap that Perverted-Justice has set more than 690 times since the organization began going after what it calls "wannabe
pedophiles" in July 2002. The wannabes, PJ is careful to clarify, are "not pedophiles in the sense that they have necessarily
committed the act of pedophilia -- however, if you look at the chat logs we post, you should be able to see that they have all clearly
demonstrated interest in performing pedophilia." What makes a situation like Dooley's ideal for PJ is that, not only did he say nasty
things online, he showed up at a house hoping to do nasty things with a young girl. That TV cameras were waiting and Perverted-
Justice got great press were secondary to the fact that local police were able to make a prosecutable case out of the transcript of PJ's
chat with him. This rarely happens. Although the Web site claims to be responsible for 23 arrests, exactly three cases have resulted
in guilty verdicts from PJ's sting operations. Another glowing success is the case of Ryan Hogan, a 24-year-old New York fireman
who allegedly tried to seduce who he thought was an adolescent girl while NBC's Dateline was filming a segment on Perverted-
Justice that has yet to air. PJ nabbed him on March 8, when a member posed as a 14-year-old with the computer-chat room moniker
According to PJ and court papers, Hogan said he was looking for a good-looking girl to have fun with. Here's an excerpt from their
conversation, taken from PJ's Web site:
Hogan: what are you doing tonight?
cuteashley4u1990: nothin. bored. u?
Hogan: hoping to get some. lol.
cuteashley4u1990: lol thats kewl.
cuteashley4u1990: ur hot.
cuteashley4u1990: can u bring condoms?
cuteashley4u1990: i dont wanna get preggers.
Hogan: i understand that.
Court records say Hogan then talked about "doggie style" and oral sex, and he said he loves "going down on a woman . . . You need
a guy to go down on you." Then he asked cuteashley: "Ever think about anal?" Ashley responded with: "Does it hurt?" Hogan said: "At
first, but then I think you would like it." The conversation continued over the course of a couple of days, with Hogan wavering between
his desire to "pound " cuteashley and worrying about the immorality of the actions he was proposing. At one point, he sent Ashley a
live feed of him masturbating in an Engine 237 sweatshirt. And Hogan got his. Later, a Dateline camera crew confronted him outside
the Brooklyn firehouse. Hogan has been indicted and is awaiting trial.
People who take it upon themselves to put a stop to predators like these look like heroes. After all, they're fighting sexual deviants
across the country, using Internet chat rooms. They seem to be exposing the very perverts who parents worry will take advantage of
their impressionable kids. And they're doing it in grand style. But critics argue that many of the men PJ meets and subsequently lures
in for humiliation are certainly sleazy, but hardly guilty of a crime. That is, authorities don't often agree with the organization's tactics,
and the overwhelming majority of the nearly 700 "busts" on the PJ Web site are never prosecuted. PJ uses profiles of mostly
adolescent girls, complete with sassy screen names and photos. Its operatives plop themselves into regional chat rooms and enter
into conversations, offering their fictitious personae as bait for the sea of pedophiles they claim are hunting victims in cyberspace. PJ
calls its operatives "contributors." These baiters pose as young girls and are typically flirtatious, and it's not long before the
conversations turn to sex. She will say she's not a virgin, that she likes older guys. She'll ask for a picture, and tell him he's "hot."
She'll extract as much information about her mark as she can: what part of town he lives in, what he does for a living and, above all,
his telephone number.
An additional operative, called a "phone verifier," sets the hook by giving him a quick call, pretending to be a young, horny teenager.
Sometime thereafter -- when the PJ contributor feels he or she has gotten enough perversion on a chat log -- the conversation will be
terminated. The confused, usually young, man on the other end of the keyboard will be directed to a Web page with an ominous
warning of what is to come: So, you're looking at this page. Most likely, your day just changed for the worse. From here, you can either
help your days get better, or you will cause them to become even worse yet. The website your perverted chat-log has been posted on
gets anywhere from two to thirty thousand hits a day. Our forums have over ten thousand members who are, at this second, finding
out exactly who you are. Don't believe us? You will. Next, the man is tried, convicted and effectively sentenced by a mob of devoted,
In the past year, 21 Arizona men have found themselves looking at this message on their computer screens after what they thought
had been a conversation with a teenage girl. Typically within a few minutes, the phone rings, and it doesn't stop ringing for weeks.
Hang-up calls, threats and anonymous messages abound. The circle expands, the mens' bosses are called, colleagues are e-
mailed. Parents, family and friends are similarly contacted. Repeatedly. Anonymously. The PJ victim's home address, phone number,
photo and other personal information, sometimes even the license plate number of his car, are posted on the Internet. Suddenly, a
Web site full of people who delight in the public humiliation of such men get in on the game. Harassment is coming from everywhere.
And the media -- such as Phoenix television station KPHO, which did a gushing story on PJ in March -- is often right behind. Critics
say the title "Perverted-Justice" is perfect for what the organization manages to level against its victims.
PJ is the brainchild of a shadowy figure who zealously guards his anonymity (what he calls his "government name") and who goes by
the handle "Xavier Von Erck." At 24, Von Erck's been on the 'net for nearly a decade, describing himself as a libertarian, an atheist and
a resident of Portland, Oregon. He is also is an avid gamer; his favorites include "Madden 2004" and "Battlefield 1942." He really likes
"Civilization III," where the ultimate goal, according to Computer Games Magazine is "staking your place in the grand pantheon of
world leaders" by waging war against civilizations and building empires.
And Von Erck has built quite an empire in Perverted-Justice. Only this is a game he has managed to play both in and out of
cyberspace -- one replete with a Perverted-Justice product line that includes women's thong underwear with the inscription
"CONTENTS AGED AT LEAST 18 YEARS" and baseball caps, coffee mugs, sweatshirts and boxer shorts with the organization's
insignia on them. The concept is nothing new. Baiting.or was doing a similar thing, sans the merchandising, in 2000. Pranks, really,
in which a baiter would slip into a chat room, pretend to be a young girl and, once he had a man thoroughly hooked, mention that the
operative had a penis he would like to use on him in a particularly painful way. It was designed to amuse everyone other than the
mark. Dirk, another anonymous Internet figure and co-founder of Baiting.org, admits that the tactics of the two sites are similar, but
that's about it: "[PJ] is taking it all way more seriously than we ever did. We did it for our own amusement, figured that others would get
a [sick] laugh out of it as well, and that was about it. Sure, the justification that Ôthose a-holes deserve whatever they get' is
something we truly believe, but unless we were subpoenaed to testify against them, after some third party got them arrested, we
couldn't care less about any legal finale to the pedo's exploits." Dirk adds, "[PJ] has just sorta taken the next step and gone for the
gold, so to speak." He admits that the tactics of the two sites are similar, but that's about it: "[PJ] is taking it all way more seriously
than we ever did. We did it for our own amusement, figured that others would get a [sick] laugh out of it as well, and that was about it.
Sure, the justification that Ôthose a-holes deserve whatever they get' is something we truly believe, but unless we were subpoenaed
to testify against them, after some third party got them arrested, we couldn't care less about any legal finale to the pedo's exploits."
Dirk adds, "[PJ] has just sorta taken the next step and gone for the gold, so to speak."
Von Erck says his project began as a natural reaction to behavior he witnessed in a Yahoo chat room. "I personally observed actual
underage teens coming into the chats, and watched the reaction of the male 'regulars' of that room. Quite frankly, it was sickening."
Every woman Von Erck knows has been a victim of sexual abuse, he says, and through PJ he saw a chance to make a difference. PJ
is a hierarchy. Von Erck claims there are 10,000 members, but only a few dozen contributors. No one but those approved by Von Erck
can post a bust. "Obviously, we're very selective," he says. "Thousands have e-mailed or asked to work at the top level of the site.
However, only a handful are actually selected each year." Von Erck co-founded PJ with a friend, Frank Fencepost (still another
anonymous figure). Fencepost was an active and popular contributor to the site until three months ago, when Von Erck decided to
remove every trace of him, including Fencepost's participation in Phoenix busts that he orchestrated with TV media in tow. The reason
Von Erck gave in a communiqu to his followers was that Fencepost had crossed the line. He had threatened to ruin the life of the
woman he was dating, also a PJ member, and Von Erck had the instant message log to prove it.
Von Erck posted several excerpts from online conversations between Fencepost and the unnamed girlfriend on the Perverted-Justice
Web site. Von Erck explains that Fencepost blew up at his girlfriend when she threatened to contact another married PJ member
Fencepost had been sleeping with. He offers this private conversation he monitored as evidence that Fencepost was unfit for service:
"I will walk into your work and shit on your desk. Then I'll start getting really serious. I won't hesitate for a second."
Later in the conversation, Fencepost allegedly rages, "Any variation on this theme and you'll be looking for work, trying to make your
house and car payments, picking up pieces and goin' 'what the FUCK just happened?' And you KNOW how fast I'm capable of
making that happen."
Fencepost, it seems, was attempting to use the same tactics on a girlfriend that PJers use. Von Erck objected and erased him from
PJ cyberspace. "Our mission at Perverted-Justice.com is very clear," says PJ's ultimate authority figure. "We go after online predators.
One of the largest things we demand is civility and carrying yourself in a professional manner when it comes to 'the law.' If a
contributor is doing something I believe breaks the law, I remove the contributor."
The concept of innocent until proven guilty doesn't have much relevance on the Internet. Neither does the notion that the state should
be the judge of culpability, rather than what amounts to an angry mob. Although Perverted-Justice has managed to snare several of
what appear to be genuine, honest-to-God pedophiles, what most of its victims are guilty of is sleazy conversation, of entertaining a
fantasy about having sex with a young girl (a.k.a. the "Lolita complex"). In a legal sense, no one knows what's really going through a
mark's head as he asks for her bra size, if her parents are home, if she sucks cock. If PJ contributors can pretend to be young girls,
couldn't their victims pretend to like young girls?
This is what a Tempe man claims was his situation. Brian (New Times has chosen not to publish the real names of PJ's victims)
spent his childhood on the East Coast before moving to Tempe with his family. He's in his early 20s and has a broken arm that
makes it hard to type, so he's reluctantly agreed to meet at a Denny's. After sinking deep into a booth, his eyes sweep the room once,
then again, before he speaks. Although it has been several months since Perverted-Justice invaded his life, and most of the
harassment resulting from that invasion has subsided, he's still concerned about popping back up on PJ's radar screen.
Of the 21 Arizona men snared by Perverted-Justice New Times attempted to contact over several months, only Brian was reached.
Most have gone deeply underground, fleeing the accusatory and often threatening calls and e-mails from PJ and its followers. The
experience clearly weighs on Brian and, although he's articulate and polite, his gloomy voice sounds like Eeyore's, if the cartoon
donkey were on downers in the rain. Shame dominates Brian's expression at first, but, as he speaks, there's clearly a sense of
injustice and outrage percolating underneath.
Wincing, he admits that what he did was wrong, but he questions whether a fantasy not acted upon -- which was busted by a vigilante
group, not a police organization -- warrants the punishment he's faced. He was a happy person, he insists, before all this began. He
had a bright future and good friends. Then, one afternoon at the library, he started messing around in a chat room, and his life as he
"All during the chat, I didn't believe it was a minor I was talking to," he insists. "I thought it was someone fooling around and playing
And it turns out he was right. Brian's excuses for his behavior are typical of PJ's victims, and are categorically dismissed as ridiculous
by Von Erck. Perverts don't role play about this sort of thing, Von Erck says.
Giving out a phone number and agreeing to meet, which most PJ targets do (although very few actually get around to attempting
physical contact before they are notified by PJ that the jig is up) is "not role-playing," Von Erck contends. "If you meet someone who
tries to say it is, promptly laugh at them," Von Erck instructs his contributors on the PJ site. "One infamous example in site history was
an older teacher who went online into a regional room and hit on an underage female. He represented himself as a math teacher, in
his thirties, with a first name, and gave his actual phone number. Then he tried to say he was 'role-playing.' "Sure he was. He was
role-playing as a male with his actual and name, profession, age, location and number, who talked about meeting an underage
female for sex and tutoring." As for Brian, he says he was finally won over because the baiter was so incredibly persistent. "I wasn't
planning on doing anything, but she kept bugging me for my phone number," he continues. "She kept pursuing me and trying to
coerce me into it." Von Erck scoffs at victims' claims of entrapment. To begin with, PJ baiters are not police officers, and the rules of
entrapment don't apply to them, he explains smugly. To further drive home his point, Von Erck offers this analogy: "Pretend that there
is a 12-year-old sitting in a park dancing around and asking older males for sex. What should the male say? Yes or no?" Brian said
yes, and it's a decision he regrets deeply. It took about an hour after the PJ bust for the harassment to begin. He says he was
besieged with phone calls and e-mails, like "Fuck you, perv!" Calls would come at all hours of the night, he says, often waking his
family at three and four in the morning. He says he was upfront with his family about what had transpired, and most of them continue
to support him. He says one phone call particularly sticks in his memory: "I remember one person said that I should commit suicide."
Brian tried to make it right, he says, doing everything the callers and e-mailers demanded of him. He put himself in counseling, but
the calls kept coming. He sent "proof" to Perverted-Justice that he was getting treatment, but the harassment persisted.
Von Erck instructs his contributors on the PJ site. "One infamous example in site history was an older teacher who went online into a
regional room and hit on an underage female. He represented himself as a math teacher, in his thirties, with a first name, and gave
his actual phone number. Then he tried to say he was 'role-playing.' "Sure he was. He was role-playing as a male with his actual
name, profession, age, location and number, who talked about meeting an underage female for sex and tutoring." As for Brian, he
says he was finally won over because the baiter was so incredibly persistent. "I wasn't planning on doing anything, but she kept
bugging me for my phone number," he continues. "She kept pursuing me and trying to coerce me into it." Von Erck scoffs at victims'
claims of entrapment. To begin with, PJ baiters are not police officers, and the rules of entrapment don't apply to them, he explains
smugly. To further drive home his point, Von Erck offers this analogy: "Pretend that there is a 12-year-old sitting in a park dancing
around and asking older males for sex. What should the male say? Yes or no?" Brian said yes, and it's a decision he regrets deeply.
It took about an hour after the PJ bust for the harassment to begin. He says he was besieged with phone calls and e-mails, like "Fuck
you, perv!" Calls would come at all hours of the night, he says, often waking his family at three and four in the morning. He says he
was upfront with his family about what had transpired, and most of them continue to support him. He says one phone call particularly
sticks in his memory: "I remember one person said that I should commit suicide." Brian tried to make it right, he says, doing
everything the callers and e-mailers demanded of him. He put himself in counseling, but the calls kept coming. He sent "proof" to
Perverted-Justice that he was getting treatment, but the harassment persisted.
Part of the proof, he says, was in the form of a "Right of Reply" -- basically an apology letter including evidence of psychological help.
"They told me if I would write a Right of Reply, my information would be removed, and I did that. That wasn't the case. Very soon after
my bust, I was in counseling, and I provided them with proof. Still nothing happened." PJ says the only way to be removed from the
Web site is by entering counseling and establishing that you have done so by providing the therapist's name, phone number and a
release from the therapist allowing PJ to discuss the case. PJ also says it must truly believe that any man who's demonstrated very
bad thoughts is sorry and is attempting to change his life. Perverted-Justice must almost never believe that such change is possible,
since it has removed the information about only two men in the site's history. Critics of the site say Von Erck and his cronies are
playing God and hiding like cowards behind the anonymity of the Internet. If they believe so much in holding their victims' names,
ranks and serial numbers to the fire, why don't they disclose theirs? What that caller had jarringly suggested that Brian do began to
intrude into his thoughts. He became suicidal and says he was hospitaized for five days.
"I still am [suicidal]," he says. "Every day I think about suicide. When I got out of the hospital, things didn't change." Brian's major at
ASU was posted in the PJ forums, as well as the address of the professor in charge of his program. Brian had to drop out of school.
His home address was posted, and he says he was afraid to go outside for weeks. He lost friends and alienated certain members of
his family, but still Brian considers himself lucky. "I didn't have a job, wife or kids. Those are the people I really feel sorry for when they
fall into this trap."
Brian continues to receive treatment. His problem, he says, had been sex addiction, not pedophilia. He's never touched an underage
girl, he swears, and never will. The therapy has been good for him, he admits. But, he asks, does PJ have to destroy its victims?
"PJ says they want to help, but they're not about helping children. They really want to ruin lives. That's what they get their jollies from. It
has nothing to do with protecting children."
Canadian Scott Morrow is the spokesman for a growing online community opposed to Perverted-Justice and its techniques. Morrow
calls his site, which he started at the end of April, Corrupted Justice. PJers refer to him and his crew as "baby fuckers" and "pedophile
Anti-PJ sites such as Morrow's, the anonymous Von Erck says, are typically "organized by individuals who do not believe in our Age of
Consent laws, who don't believe there is anything wrong with soliciting minors for sex." Morrow (his real name, by the way) vigorously
denies Von Erck's assertion. "I believe PJ's intentions were good, initially," Morrow says. "[PJ members wanted] to protect the Internet,
to protect children from perverts. But their mission went astray right from the onset because of personality traits. They say they want to
poison the well of chat rooms, but they are not accomplishing this. Instead, they drive real perverts underground." Morrow says that,
like many people, he was initially a supporter of Perverted-Justice. Indeed, he was "very impressed" by what they were undertaking.
"When you first go to PJ, you look at the site and go, 'Wow, these guys are heroes.'" he says. "I found it, and I thought, 'This is
awesome!' I have three kids, [and I felt] these guys are doing such a great thing. It [still] looks like a great thing on the surface."
But what the general public -- and especially the broadcast media -- tend to overlook, Morrow says, is what happens in PJ's follow-up
forums. This is where the core group of diehard PJers use Internet sleuthing skills to uncover whatever information they can about
the mark of the moment and those around him. This is information they use to humiliate the victim, and it ultimately ends up
destroying many people's lives, when what the mark has done is possibly verbalize a fantasy. "It's a big, dirty, stinky, smelly
cesspool," Morrow says, "and the more time you spend wading in it, the stinkier it gets." Morrow says he and the other 150 members
of Corrupted Justice regard PJ as the most active and dangerous group of vigilantes on the Internet.Morrow is uick to explain that he
and his group in no way support pedophilia, and would have little problem with PJ if its members simply posted information on cyber-
altercations and left it at that. "This has grown into something quite dangerous. They are using vigilante tactics and anonymity to
destroy people's lives.
The victim loses his job, family, neighborhood and any respect anyone ever had for him. It drives people to the brink of suicide. I've
spoken personally to a few people who, if not for very quick help, suicide would have been a very real possibility." Referring to the fact
that PJ hides its own members' identities with a vengeance and broadcasts the identities of its victims with that same zeal, he says,
"Regardless of what these [marks] are, they are tried, convicted and hanged without due process, without someone saying, 'I'm the
one accusing you.'
a family's grown children, employers, friends. Morrow describes his nemesis, Von Erck, as a highly intelligent "master debater." The
pun is intended. "A lot of people in Perverted-Justice look upon him as a god," Morrow says. "In his mind, every bust that happens,
he's responsible for."
Von Erck's control of his site and his followers is absolute, Morrow maintains. "He's a dictator." Von Erck, Morrow says, responds to
critics posting on PJ's site by banning them. End of conversation. "He makes it very clear that it's his site -- and not a democracy. No
one has a right to do anything he doesn't want them to do." Von Erck is the sole spokesman for PJ, and he won't allow his members
to post anything related to PJ on other sites, Morrow says."They call us 'pedophile enablers,'" Morrow says. "They don't want to give us
the time of day." Corrupted Justice, on the other hand, allows anyone to post on its site as long as he or she doesn't list personal
information. Von Erck calls Morrow's claims "silly," but he's still not about to divulge his identity or tell anyone whether he or his
members have any credentials that qualify them to pass such harsh judgment on their marks. Morrow is one of the few critics of
Perverted-Justice willing to go on the record. Naturally, when reputations are ruined at the drop of a hat, naysayers are reluctant to
identify themselves; why should they list their names, they argue, when Von Erck and other PJ members lack the courage to list
theirs? A married Tempe businessman and current CJ member in his mid-20s says he, like Morrow, was at first impressed with the
Perverted-Justice site. "My initial feelings were pretty good. I was like, 'a site that actually preys on online predators!'" He says he soon
came to the conclusion, however, that the harm PJ does greatly outweighs the good. "Good concept, lousy execution, and the results
they obtain are slim to none," he says. "They harass people to no end, call them 'baby rapers,' ruin their lives by contacting their
families and places of work . . . the extent they take it to is ridiculous."
PJ hopes to take things even further. In the future, it wants to expand what has been its very limited role in law enforcement by
somehow managing to get a higher percentage of its victims prosecuted. Here's Von Erck bragging about his organization's
activities: "Since November 2003, 19 individuals have been arrested and/or charged with crimes based upon our files. We currently
have 15 ongoing court cases pending verdicts. Our two resolved cases both resulted in convictions." Since Von Erck posted those
comments, he says, arrests have risen to 23, and now there are three convictions. But Von Erck doesn't seem to value the
fundamental difference between getting arrested and actually being charged with a crime, since police officers are frequently
overruled by prosecutors with law degrees. So who knows how many of the 23 cases cited by the conveniently reclusive Von Erck
resulted in charges? And what does it mean when he says 15 cases are "pending verdicts?" In Von Erck's estimation, whenever PJ
makes even the most bogus of busts, it is pending a court's ruling. The only sure thing about his statement is that PJ's methods have
rsulted in just three successful prosecutions in two years. And even if it had been able to hand authorities another 15 prosecutions
on a silver platter -- out of more than 690 so-called "busts" -- that's a pretty lousy success record. Von Erck goes on to say that his
organization has agreements in two states (which ones, he's not saying) to share information gathered on an individual before
posting it online. This, he thinks, would give cops a chance to react before the matter becomes public."With the agreement of
proactive law enforcement," he muses, "we could potentially cover the entire United States, making public postings a thing of the
past."He says PJ is working on a "Data Center" project, which would allow police full access to all of the organization's files Again,
details -- at least those he's willing to share with the public -- are as sketchy as his identity. And what does law enforcement think
about Von Erck and his band of ?
Phoenix Police Sergeant Frank Kardasz, who teaches a course on Internet crime at Rio Salado College and is a member of the U.S.
Attorney General's Arizona Child Exploitation Law Enforcement Subcommittee, says police cooperation with cyber-vigilantes is a
scary proposition. Kardasz argues that police are careful to positively identify a suspect before an arrest, something cyber-vigilantes
do not often accomplish. He says physical confrontations with Internet vigilantes could occur if they get in the way of authorities during
an arrest. His point is that law enforcement is best left to sworn police officers. Having TV media present during a real bust is dicey,
he says. "If [a mark's] picture is splashed across the television during his trial by media, his reputation will likely be ruined, and he
may be in physical jeopardy from viewers who may want to take the law into their own hands." If police were to get involved based on
sketchy information from a group such as Peverted-Justice, officers could "be named in the plaintiffs' later slander and false-arrest
Rachel Wilson, spokesperson for Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley's office, says PJ members might be the first ones sued.
Although they are acting within the law by posing as teenage girls, she says, PJ members are "opening themselves up for civil
litigation" when they post a victim's personal information on the Web.
The antics of cyber-vigilantes may make it much more difficult to prosecute a case in court. Computer hard drives could be seized for
use as evidence by defense attorneys, Kardasz says. If a vigilante has been the victim of a sex crime -- as many of PJ's contributors
claim they have -- this may make their actions less-than-credible to a court of law. If an arrest were to occur during a TV station's
sweeps week, that also could be used to tarnish a case. He says entrapment claims can make cases especially difficult to criminally
prosecute: "Juries will not look favorably upon cyber-vigilantes who suggest or encourage sex acts."
Recently, PJ found two of its contributors in a Minnesota courtroom for just that reason. A lawyer for Thomas Cison, whom PJ had
targeted, asked the court for a restraining order against Red Baroness and Beef the Troll (their real names are Jim and Toby
Schweitzer). The Schweitzers had lured Cison into sexually provocative repartee with a minor. The suit also called for information that
PJ posted about Cison to be removed from its Web site. Cison is awaiting a judge's decision. Added to the Perverted-Justice site in
April, here's a sample of what was said during Cison's PJ bust:
Cison: so do you like guys ur age, or older men??
PJ: i like men not boys lol.
Cison: well im a man definitely.
PJ: im sure u are lol.
Cison: i am, im all man.
Cison: you should meet me lol.
PJ: ooh babie lol.
Cison: you wanna meet me lol???
PJ: is that a yes??
Cison: i dont see whay nott.
Although Cison was cleared by police, his attorney says his entire family has been the target of intense harassment.
"Hang-up calls and a threat to kill my client were left on voice mail," says Phil Villaume, Cison's attorney. "PJ is a vigilante group,
according to law enforcement. They are working outside the law."
Villaume says that, despite the damage PJ has caused in so many people's lives, Cison seems to be the first person who has fought
back in court. "People are afraid to stand up to these people," the attorney says. "These people are very, very dangerous. Anybody
else who is being stalked and harassed should take legal action against them."
But most of PJ's victims don't have the luxury of having been cleared by authorities. As the statistics prove, cops rarely get involved in
the organization's busts. PJ's victims are hounded by faceless, nameless assailants who phone and e-mail everyone the mark
Despite Von Erck's claims that the organization is hugely law-abiding, PJ doesn't adhere to the legal requirement that, in all but the
most unusual of cases, an alleged criminal must be faced by his accusers. It makes its own rules.
Twenty-one-year-old Steve, another Phoenix man, is testament to how much PJ’s marks are at the vigilante group’s mercy.
Steve quickly learned how messy it can be to fool around suggestively online, where even a fantasy can get you in trouble with PJ’s
thought police who pose as underage girls.
Steve: we’ll start with making out and move from there
PJ: kewl. i like to kiss. then what are we gonna do. im gettin xcited. lol.
PJ: ur hella cute
Steve: you look good too.
(The PJ operative and the mark usually exchange scanned-in photographs of each other.)
Steve: next il probably start rubbin your tits and fingering you.
PJ: kewl . . . then what?
Steve: hmm . . . do you give head?
PJ: yeah but i dont know if i am very good at it yet.
Steve: well we can 69 and you can practice.
PJ: oh kewl i never done that b4
The online conversation continued for about an hour. PJ promised to call Steve later. And it certainly did. Shortly after his bust, Steve
was confronted in a chat room by PJ member “jennyd_68,” who wanted to talk with him about his “problem.” Their Internet
conversation was posted in a PJ follow-up forum:
Steve: My approach to the Internet is different than yours. I come online to do what I want and say what I want anonymously, never
moving beyond the Internet. He goes on to say that girls lead him on all the time, and he does the same to them. Steve: Maybe that’s
my problem, lack of respect, but not having sex with minors. Jenny argues back: “But lack of respect, Steve, doesn’t cause a guy to
talk like this, with a child. If it was an adult, we wouldn’t care . . . it’s kids we are talking about. No matter how anonymous you feel
online, I’ll never understand how that = it’s ok to talk sex with children. Steve tries to explain that just because someone says she is a
certain age on the Internet doesn’t mean she is telling the truth. Steve: I agree, Jenny, but understand, I have come across plenty of
phonies online. In my mind they are all fake. I agree that speaking like this to children is wrong, but I had nothing to prove to me she
was who she said she was . . . then I got creeped out. Then boom this happens.
Jenny: So wouldn’t you think it would be safer to assume that it IS a child, if they say they are? Steve: Yes, i do, very much so . . . but i
don’t have all these things goin’ thru my mind. I’m a 21-year-old student who parties more than he studies, and I don’t assume these
things, mainly because I don't have a son or daughter to fear for. Jenny: What if you did have a little girl, Steve? And a guy your age
wanted to do those things with her? What would you do? Honestly? Steve: I would be angry, but this is like a war on drugs, are you
gonna rid the world of these people? And make the world safe again? I like where you are coming from, but the approach is wrong. I
agree with all your base intentions. But doing it online based on profiles and info you believe to be true isn’t very solid, and although
you may have crushing methods of getting your point across, its not the right way, because I am not that person you are fighting
against. But because I talked to your person, I am caught up in this.
Von Erck says PJ’s tactics — the phone calls, the e-mails, the ruining of lives — are warranted: “It’s no different than watching a guy
proposition a teen in a park and then putting up warnings in the community about the individual.”Von Erck claims he officially
condemns harassment. What is done in the follow-up forums is simply “the will of the people,” he maintains. “There is no right to
privacy,” he insists, acting as judge, jury and constitutional expert, “when you’re attempting to solicit a minor.”
retrieved September 4, 2003 from http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/issues/2004-07-15/feature.html