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Says Scott: "I had one of those isolated, overweight, pimply-faced 25-year-olds. He went to Memphis from St. Louis and got busted crossing the river. And he really thought he was meeting someone he fell in love with online."
Scott is not ready to label all child-pornography collectors as predators: "Pornography is not a mainline to contact offending." Scott says while it's true that people who touch kids are more likely to want pictures of them, "We can't say that viewing child pornography leads someone to later offend."
At first, Maryland Heights police officer Erica Stough knew Justin Dorvee of Queensbury, New York, only as "Puma8Malcolm," a screen name that paid homage to Muniz's favorite brand of sneaker and shoe size. "It was all about Malcolm in the Middle and Puma shoes, which I can't look at anymore," says Stough, who assumed the identity of a fourteen-year-old boy and began chatting online with Dorvee in April 2007.
The conversation lasted two months, but Stough says she had a feeling about Dorvee's intentions from day one. "He asked about what kind of shoes I wore, what kind of socks I wore, and his profile was very strange," she says. "There was an indication he was involved in a little bit more than young kids' socks and shoes."
The chat soon turned explicitly sexual. Dorvee said he wanted to meet, but he wasn't willing to travel to Missouri. Stough decided to pass the case to the sheriff's department in Warren County, New York, where Dorvee lived.
Sheriff's investigator Mo Aldrich picked up the thread. He created a MySpace profile for "Seth" and struck up a conversation with Dorvee. "At first it was once a week. It very quickly turned into him wanting to chat every night," Aldrich says. "I would tell him, 'I'm watching the Little League World Series.' He was very into the Little League World Series."
Aldrich says it didn't take much to get Dorvee going. "Without prompting by me, he would [say], 'Hey, do you have some time to talk dirty to me so I can masturbate?'" At Dorvee's request, Aldrich downloaded Yahoo! Messenger. Dorvee then sent over a half-hour's worth of child pornography. "He told me during chats that he had over 20,000 pics and videos."
If Dorvee had looked closer at Seth's profile he might have realized he wasn't chatting with a real kid. The only photo was a blurred image of a boy on a BMX bike. When Dorvee asked for more pictures, Aldrich would put him off by claiming technical difficulty.
Finally, in October 2007, Dorvee asked for a meeting. He and "Seth" were to go to the boy's house after Dorvee finished work at the Queensbury T.J. Maxx store. The boy's mother worked nights, so they would be alone.
Dorvee showed up that night, as promised, with supplies to feed his fetish, Aldrich says. "He was going to bring Frankie Muniz movies and the digital camera. He made sure to have his white ankle socks on."
While officers swarmed Dorvee, a rotund 26-year-old, in the parking lot of the T.J. Maxx store, another team served a search warrant on the house where he lived with his mother. They found a record stash of child pornography and three file cabinets full of printed chat transcripts.
What's more, Dorvee had been taking photos of his neighbor's kids while they were jumping on a trampoline or riding a bike, Aldrich says. "He would've had an actual, physical victim at some point."
Dorvee pleaded guilty in March 2008 to New York state charges and now faces a federal charge for the child pornography. The case, the first for Warren County, prompted Aldrich to start his own chat-room sting operation. Never having played a teenage girl, he asked Stough for feedback. The 31-year-old Stough has a knack for texting like a teenager might. "I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing," she says.
Stough observes her teenage niece, listens to Rihanna and says she's never stumped for lines when chatting with her suitors. "I've got an imagination like you wouldn't believe," she says. But her success can be disturbing. She practically gags on the name of one offender who wanted to meet her fourteen-year-old persona for a threesome — and include his nine-year-old daughter.
As promised, he arrived at the agreed-upon parking lot in Maryland Heights with the girl riding in the back seat of his beat-up green Cadillac. "My heart sank when I saw his daughter in the car," Stough says. "It made me sick to my stomach."
Chat-room stings have been widely publicized, especially while Dateline NBC was running its To Catch a Predator series, yet Maryland Heights Police Captain Scott Will says men continue to flock to his undercover officers. When Stough first went online, he says, "It was like swatting flies."
Detectives who patrol file-sharing networks, such as LimeWire and BearShare, find the suspects just as plentiful. Wildwood-based computer forensics expert Greg Chatten advises defense attorneys on child pornography cases. "In the last year," he says, "the file sharing has far outweighed the other methods of how stuff got on the computer."
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