June 29, 2015

Human Trafficking Victims Sue Website Used to Conduct Cybersex Sting

An ongoing police operation has led to dozens of arrests on solicitation and human trafficking charges, according to the Providence Police Department and the city's Major Jorge Elorza. Throughout this operation, police have focused on the classified ad Backpage, posing as prostitutes and luring the defendants in.

Thanks to recent changes in federal human trafficking laws and the laws of states like Rhode Island and its neighbor, Massachusetts, neither of which prosecute sex workers under the age of 18, there has been an interesting development to come out of this focus on Backpage. Two victims, now 17 and 20, are suing the website for the role it played in their having been sold for sex 1,900 times. The publication has vehemently protested that Backpage, or any other website, could be considered a third party in human trafficking.

Suing parties in human trafficking cases through the civil court has been an option since the amended Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003, but few cases have come forward. The verdict in this case could potentially mark a new development in the ongoing effort to define and fight federal cybersex crimes.

Back in Rhode Island, Major Elorza is also looking for ways to bring civil action against the website, claiming that Backpage has "willfully and knowingly" allowed itself to be used to facilitate prostitution and human trafficking. The citizens of Providence have expressed public outrage at the website as well, pointing out that prostitutes and johns have used Backpage repeatedly to post their services and arrange meetings.

It remains to be seen what impact this scrutiny on Web publications will have on the underage sex industry -- or indeed, what impact civil suits will have on the First Amendment rights of publications like Backpage. Without doubt, going after the publications themselves ushers forth a whole new chapter in the fight against child solicitation in the U.S. 

Your freedom and future may be at stake as a result of false charges of online cybercrime or solicitation. We can help. Call Seltzer Law, P.A. right now at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) for a free and confidential consultation.

June 24, 2015

Understanding the Difference Between Solicitation and Human Trafficking

A recent article in the online legal journal, Above the Law, discussed a typical cybersex prostitution sting in Texas that had an interesting legal twist. One of the men taken into custody that day, Aaron Watkins, turned out to be a third year Baylor law student.

Intrigued by the law student's foray into territory most attorneys only hear about from clients, the writer pointed out that Watkins was one of the few arrested that day on charges of conspiracy to commit human trafficking. The question he raised: What is the main difference between a solicitation and a human trafficking charge?

Solicitation is any request to perform a sexual act. Asking to have sex with an underage child, whether or not in exchange for a fee, is a felony offense; whereas the solicitation of a person of legal age to have sex in exchange for money is considered a misdemeanor offense in most states.

Human trafficking is a more serious, federal offense in which an individual, typically a third party, threatens, coerces, or tricks victims into the prostitution trade. As the name implies, "trafficking" involves moving victims from one location to another in order to use them as prostitutes. We’ll discuss an example of this type of crime in more detail in a subsequent post, so stay tuned.

To protect your name, your freedom and your reputation, get in touch with a qualified Florida cybercrime defense attorney at Seltzer Law, P.A. immediately at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) for a free and confidential consultation.

June 15, 2015

Florida Cybersex Sting Nets Men Who Worked at Disney World and other Tourist Attractions

The latest installment in Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd's crusade to crack down on Internet child sex offenders led to the arrest of no less than 22 men, each one of them looking to have sex with girls whom they believed to be between the ages of 10 and 14. Instead of finding a young girl, the men who entered the designated meeting spot in Clermont, Florida got the surprise of their lives when sheriff's deputies burst on the scene instead.

Although stings like these have become commonplace across the nation, Operation L&P, named for the two participating Florida counties, Lake and Polk, made national press because its details were especially salacious. Several of the men arrived with sex toys; one had allegedly brought along a whip.

What's more, several of the men arrested worked in places where they were able to interact children regularly. One was employed by Disney World and another by Sea World; a third offender worked at Universal Studios. Perhaps the most disturbing case was that of 22-year-old Ahmad Saleem, a community activist and youth counselor whose specialty license plates read "Invest in Children." Saleem allegedly arrived at the meeting spot allegedly hoping to have sex with a 12-year-old.

Operation L&P also went after prostitutes, making 79 arrests at the same Clermont location. Critics noted that Sheriff Judd judged defendants harshly; he allegedly sneered at one man, who drives a luxury car but who also receives food stamps. Judd speculated that perhaps the man was "saving his food money to engage in prostitution." Statements like these can win points with the press and grab headlines. But they also create a demonizing atmosphere in which it becomes hard for people unjustly accused of cybersex crimes to receive equal justice under the law.

A seasoned Miami cybercrimes attorney with Seltzer Law, P.A. can help you understand your defense options and create an effective response to your charges. Call us 24/7/365 at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333).

June 10, 2015

Three Vermont Men Arrested in Underage Prostitution Sting

A joint task force involving law enforcement agents from the South Burlington Police Department, the Vermont Internet Crime Against Children Task Force, the Colchester Police Department, the Vermont Attorney General's Office, and the Vermont State Police took three men into custody for soliciting female officers online and agreeing to have sex with them in exchange for money. The men were 20, 29, and 30 years of age.

They remain in jail pending arraignment on bonds ranging $5,000 to $7,500.

The sting took place during a single five hour period. According to law enforcement agents, the officers clearly stated that they were 14-year-old girls. However, a statement released to the press revealed that some of the men had also expressed a desire to pay for sex with women who were over the age of 18.

In cases like these, it becomes very hard to know how much coercion law enforcement agents placed on the alleged perpetrators. There have been instances where police represented themselves as older women, only to bring up in the course of further conversation that an underage girl would be available for sex as well. Thinking that they would avoid the underage girl, but unwilling to jeopardize the meeting by offending anyone, men with no intention of breaking the law have fallen victim to bait and switch tactics like these and faced serious legal repercussions. 

What can you do to respond to cybercrime charges? Call Seltzer Law, P.A. at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) to speak with an experienced Miami cybercrime defense lawyer about your options.

June 3, 2015

Joint Task Force Takes 23 Texas Men into Custody for Online Solicitation

Some fascinating cybercrime news out of Texas...

The arrests were the result of a joint task force that included local Katy and Sugar Land police departments, the Missouri City police department, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security. Detectives worked for a month posing as teenage girls on social media sites to establish a meeting spot with the men. They then waited for the men to arrive at the designated spot so that they could arrest them.

Ranging in age from 19 to 59, the men faced charges of soliciting a minor, unlawful firearms possession, possession of a controlled substance, and having an outstanding warrant. In other words, police used the pretext of the sting to cast a wider net. Meanwhile, the men's mug shots, along with the charges and the amount of their bond, appeared in slideshow format on a local television channel's website one day after the arrest.

From the perspective of law enforcement, the sting illustrates the value of the coalition and gives the perception that they are being tough on crime. But when photographs of the men taken into custody are posted before the men have their day in court, the system has failed all Americans. Some of these men will go on to be cleared of all the charges. In an attempt to create a deterrent against an abhorrent crime, the authorities are, in some cases, destroying the reputation of innocent men. This unintended consequence of joint task forces designed to stop cybersex crimes is reason enough to rethink the entire policy.

Do you need help responding to federal cybercrime or solicitation charges? Call an experience Miami cybercrimes attorney with Seltzer Law, P.A. today to schedule a free consultation. Call anytime at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333).

May 25, 2015

Do Cybersex Sting Operations Constitute Entrapment? 

That was the question posed by police officers and legal experts in Lubbock, Texas, where authorities have resorted more and more often to using sting operations to catch defendants in the act of soliciting minors. To cite just one typical case, a 22-year-old man named Kevin Porter was indicted on a second-degree felony charge for arranging to meet someone he thought was a 14-year-old girl for the purpose of having sex with her. Arrested by police when he arrived at the meeting place, Porter now potentially faces time in prison.

Lubbock authorities defend their operations, pointing out that, in many cases, the victims of these crimes are real. They cite the recent conviction of 26-year-old Christopher Wayne Howard, who was sentenced to 27 months in prison by the U.S. District Court in Lubbock for a single count of transferring obscene data to a 13-year-old girl. Predators are out there, they say, and the exploitation of children is a particularly heinous offense.

The main point of contention is this: does using sting operations to catch offenders in the act simply create offenders out of men who would otherwise never have considered soliciting a minor? Police are quick to note that they simply plant the bait in sites where offenders have already entered; they don't use pop up ads to lure people in.

The flaw in this logic is that Texas employs what is called an "objective focus" when the state looks at the standard for entrapment. If a jury deems the police's actions in baiting a suspect are reasonable, then the police are not guilty of entrapment. When police officers pose as 14-year-old girls, however, jurors may be overcome with disgust and outrage at the defendant simply for responding, making it hard for jurors to see entrapment, even when it is legitimately there.

What can you do to respond to cybercrime charges? Call Seltzer Law, P.A. at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) to speak with an experienced Miami cybercrime defense lawyer about your options.

May 20, 2015

"National Day of Johns" Leads to Nearly 600 Arrests

A nationwide sting operation involving law enforcement in 17 states ended a month-long investigation with the arrest of almost 600 individuals. Most of the defendants were taken into custody on solicitation charges after responding to fake ads for prostitution posted online at Backpage.com. 

Launched in 2011 to highlight the role that the Internet plays in promoting and advertising prostitution, the sting initiative netted 23 alleged cyber criminals and federal human traffickers. In Phoenix, Arizona, police recovered prostitutes who had been brought into town for the Super Bowl by their pimps. A man taken into custody in Las Vegas on federal human trafficking charges was extradited to Ohio. Police arrested two individuals for attempting to post prostitution ads using computers in the Cincinnati public library.

In addition to making arrests, police seized a variety of property, including 221 cars belonging to men who had driven to meet women for the purposes of having sex. In four cases, police found narcotics on defendants. 

Although human trafficking and cybersex crimes are serious offenses, casting the net so wide in the hope of preventing federal crimes may cause more problems than it prevents. It can be difficult to recover property seized in connection to a sting operation, even if the charges are later dismissed. And for innocent people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, being taken into custody on solicitation charges can be a devastating and life-changing event.

Do you need help responding to federal cybercrime or solicitation charges? Call an experience Miami cybercrimes attorney with Seltzer Law, P.A. today to schedule a free consultation. Call anytime at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333).

May 11, 2015

Duval County Man Arrested for Soliciting a Minor

Thomas Jones, dubbed "the face of evil" by police, was recently arrested at a Florida CVS store, where he allegedly believed he would rendezvous with a 13-year-old girl he met on the Internet.

In reality, the 43-year-old father had been speaking to police detectives conducting a month-long investigation.
During that time, Jones communicated not only with someone he thought was an underage girl but also with a man he believed to be the uncle of a 14-year-old who was soliciting sex for his niece. Jones allegedly said that he would "love to have a young love" and detailed the sexual positions he wanted to the detective posing as the teenager.

Neighbors of Jones expressed unease and surprise when they heard about the arrest. One neighbor said that he had planned to move even before he heard the news, and he was relieved that he was leaving the neighborhood.

Per news reports, Jones cooperated with authorities, admitting that he had gone to the CVS store to meet a 13-year-old. He remains in custody with bail set at over one million dollars.

One can only speculate why Jones agreed to speak with police directly upon being taken into custody. He may have felt that there was no point in trying to hide the facts once he was caught. However, it is crucial not to follow his lead. Since even innocent people can make incriminating statements under duress, the best strategy is to remain quiet until an attorney shows up.

A seasoned Miami cybercrimes attorney with Seltzer Law, P.A. can help you understand your defense options and create an effective response to your charges. Call us 24/7/365 at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333).

May 6, 2015

Florida Customs Officer Charges with Online Solicitation of a Minor

Walter Rivera, a 29-year-old U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer who worked at Miami International Airport, was recently suspended without pay after being charged with online solicitation of a minor.

Rivera allegedly used a cellphone app to have conversations with a police detective he believed was a 15-year-old boy named James; he was arrested when he arrived at the alleged meeting place.

According to police, Rivera exchanged pictures with the detective posing as a boy and described a desire to lie next to him and "see where things go." He also offered to perform oral sex on "James."

Rivera told authorities that he reached out to the boy because he was bored and lonely. He said that he had used the app on a prior occasion to speak with a 16-year-old, but he had never met that boy in person. 

Despite the fact that Rivera had no prior criminal record, the judge used this affidavit to argue that he believed Rivera was a repeat offender. He ordered Rivera to wear an electronic ankle monitor if he was released from jail before his next court appearance.

The self-incriminating statements in Rivera's affidavit underscore how important it is for defendants to obtain legal council as soon as possible. Being arrested can be so traumatic and unsettling that people may unknowingly confess to crimes they did not even commit in an attempt to explain away the circumstances or demonstrate a cooperative attitude.

Your freedom and future may be at stake as a result of false charges of online cybercrime or solicitation. We can help. Call Seltzer Law, P.A. right now at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) for a free and confidential consultation.

April 27, 2015

Repeat Offender Charged with One Count of Cyber Child Solicitation

A 25-year-old Madison, Alabama man named Justin David Beatty was recently taken into custody on a single count of electronic solicitation of a child, the result of an ongoing police investigation.

Authorities allege that Beatty solicited a child under the age of 16 to post explicit photos on the Internet. He is being held on a $100,000 bond.

This is not Beatty's first offense. In 2012, he was arrested for the possession of child pornography and allowed to participate in a pretrial intervention program for first-time offenders.

Cases like this one, sadly enough, reinforce public opinion that sexual predators do not benefit from treatment programs, since recidivism rates are high in any case, and there is nothing that can be done about it. In fact, this belief is not true. Recidivism rates among sex offenders is actually lower than that of other criminals, with about a 20 percent reconviction rate for child molesters and a 47 percent reconviction rate for non-sex offenses.

With treatment, these percentages go down. One published review of 80 independent comparisons between those who received treatment and those who did not found that recidivism rates declined 37 percent with treatment, from 17.5 percent in the control group to 11.1 of those who went through treatment programs.

Intervention programs like the one Beatty entered are one of the best ways to lower the rate of child sex offenses. Nevertheless, public perception continues to favor tough sentences and draconian measures aimed at putting offenders in prison for a long time. Unfortunately, the result is that a number of first-time offenders -- approximately 40 percent -- go on to commit non-sexual crimes after serving time behind bars when they could have entered treatment programs instead.

What can you do to respond to cybercrime charges? Call Seltzer Law, P.A. at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) to speak with an experienced Miami cybercrime defense lawyer about your options.

April 22, 2015

Orange County Technology Expert Charged in 33 Counts of Cybersex

Recent arrest reports suggest that Qayed Murtaza Shareef, the 39-year-old CEO of a Southern California digital advertising company solicited two Virginia boys, aged nine and 10, to take explicit videos of themselves. Per the allegations, Shareef used the messaging app Tango to contact the boys and, eventually, to choreograph the specific sexual acts he wanted them to perform.

Shareef, who maintains his innocence, allegedly sent the boys adult pornography and videos of himself engaged in sex acts. Investigators are concerned that these boys aren't the only victims.

The authorities first became aware of the case over a year ago when one of the boy's mothers found a video on her son's tablet. But due to Shareef's knowledge of computer technology, officials believe he was able to elude investigators.

The Orange County Child Exploitation Task force took Shareef into custody at his Aliso Viejo home and charged him with 33 counts of lewd acts with a child under 14, possession of child pornography, and distribution of pornography to a child. If convicted, he faces 752 years in prison.

This case is disturbing not only because of the crimes themselves but also because it illustrates how easy it is for someone with technological expertise to evade the law. Where an investigation pits the savvy of the alleged criminal against that of the authorities -- who use some of the most advanced technology in the industry to catch predators -- some victims and even some alleged perpetrators may be denied justice under the law.

Your freedom and future may be at stake as a result of false charges of online cybercrime or solicitation. We can help. Call Seltzer Law, P.A. right now at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) for a free and confidential consultation.

April 13, 2015

First Amendment Impacts Cybercrime Laws in Texas

Glen Timberlake, a 27-year-old from Austin, drove all the way from central Texas to rural Michigan to meet a girl he met online two years ago while playing Minecraft. Police took him into custody when the girl's mother recognized him outside their home. He was carrying a butcher knife and claiming that he "wanted to get some answers."

The mother of the 14-year-old had already notified the authorities some time ago, claiming that the online relationship had became inappropriate, with Timberlake sending the girl videos of himself engaged in sexual acts, at least one involving a dog. The Austin Police Department was aware of Timberlake's odd behavior and had allegedly issued him a warning to stay away from the girl.

Although Timberlake was charged with numerous felonies and placed in jail on a $700,000 bond, authorities were not able to charge him with cyber solicitation of a minor, which carries a stricter penalty, due to recent changes in the statute. The 2013 session of the Texas State Legislature struck down the part of the law that would characterize explicit online conversation with a minor a crime, declaring that it violated the First Amendment. Now, adults are only breaking the law once they cross the line and attempt to act on their words.

Ironically, this change in the law means that a first-time offender caught in a cyber sex sting operation faces more time in prison than a violent interstate stalker like Timberlake.
Changes to the statute have local police departments scrambling to find a more effective way to investigate and prosecute these cases. They are no longer assigning them to the Child Abuse Unit and have moved them over to Human Trafficking, claiming that online predators use the same grooming behaviors and methods to lure their victim as human traffickers do.

A seasoned Miami cybercrimes attorney with Seltzer Law, P.A. can help you understand your defense options and create an effective response to your charges. Call us 24/7/365 at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333).