Category Archives: Entrapment

So, the FBI May Have Been Running a Lot of Child Porn Websites

We previously covered that the FBI operated a major child porn website a while back, but new papers indicate the operations may be even more extensive. Unsealed documents refer to “Websites 1-23”,  which seems to suggest almost two dozen child pornography websites that were operated from a government facility. Apparently the procedure was to attach malware to the distributed files to identify the users. Details are still sketchy, but as with the earlier disclosures about the government actively distributing child porn, the ramifications could be troubling.

via gizmodo

Advertisements

Child Sex Investigator Arrested for Child Sex Offenses

charles-mcmullen2

Charles “Chuck” McMullen via WEAR TV

Holy Crap, Charles “Chuck” McMullen, who had been a supervisor of the FDLE cyber-crimes unit for several years, has been arrested for exactly the type of activity he had been policing all these years. As a supervisor with the unit, he would literally travel the state setting up and running the internet sting operation in cooperation with various law enforcement agencies. He has now been charged with sexual assault and lewd and lascivious behavior on victims less than twelve. The victims indicate it happened on multiple occasions, so he could end up with multiple charges. The accusers were only 8, and sexual assault on a minor under 12 is a capital felony that has a mandatory sentence of life in prison, if he is convicted of that charge. He apparently was working at centers that advocate for abused children, allegedly using his position there to access his victims.

I have previously written about how sting operations run the risk of entrapping people. Sex offender stings in particular run this risk, and have been shown to do so locally. I have also pointed out some of the dirty tricks these operations use to set up the targets in these operations. Here’s the thing… Chuck McMullen is literally the guy who was doing this.

Special Agent Chuck McMullen organized, supervised, and actively participated in these operations. He ran operations where people were wrongly prosecuted, and he personally used improper techniques that constituted entrapment. Chuck McMullen wrongfully prosecuted people for travelling to meet minors, and now is facing charges for actually having abused young children. It’s shocking, appalling, and troubling on many levels. If it is demonstrated he committed these offenses, it is all the worse for his hypocrisy.

The image above is from file footage from WEARTV

So, the FBI has been Distributing Child Porn

For several weeks last year, the FBI ran what it admits was one of the largest illegal, child pornography distributing/sharing websites online. They had seized the site, but instead of taking it down, let it run to try to track other users who were downloading from the site. The is a major break from former FBI policy, but apparently they have done it several times in recent years. It’s like ATF’s gunwalking scheme, sometimes referred to as “Fast and Furious” that ended up with a bunch of weapons in the hands of violent drug dealers. It has entrapment overtones, not that they are coercing subjects, but that the behavior of the government so shocks the conscious that they should not be permitted to use this type of procedure to arrest people. We don’t want our government in the business of creating crime, and legal challenges are now underway on cases that were derived from these types of operations.

Ultimately, this signals that these law enforcement agents are more interested in making their prosecutions than they are in preventing crime.

The Dirtiest Trick, Revisited

A few weeks ago, I posted about what I believe to be the dirtiest trick utilized by law enforcement in their poorly-run internet sting operations: using pictures of OLDER decoys to supposedly catch pedophiles. I have personally seen cases where decoys of legal age were used to entice would-be consenting adults. I got an email yesterday that in another sting operation, in Orange County, agents were using images of decoys as old as 25 to entice their targets. I wish I could say that I was surprised. The sad truth is they claim to be chasing pedophiles, but they are using adults to lure people. There’s nothing wrong with meeting a 25-year-old on the internet, it’s the lie they slip in claiming the decoy is much younger that they use to arrest the sucker. While we don’t want adults traveling to meet underage children, our law enforcement resources are being misspent if we are pursuing people who are not actually looking to meet underage partners. The reality is even more harsh, as Florida’s draconian sentencing laws often don’t fit the crime. (See Marissa Alexander re: 10/20/Life)

Here’s a link to the image of the 25-year-old decoy: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BzLomEB8bi2PTjZra3gtSFRyc0E/edit

Commentors have pointed me to the governingus.com blog that specifically follows these cases. It’s worth checking and they recently linked to a story out of Tampa by a reporter who really does some journalism and challenges the authorities. Noah Pransky used to work in the Fort Myers market, before moving on to a bigger market. We’ve linked to his stories on before on crimcourts, when he did a great expose on misuse of red light ticketing. Imagine that, the Fourth Estate keeping an eye on government intrusion.

Pransky, who is not on the defense side, unlike the author of this blog, says it perfectly, “Law enforcement may have crossed the line in going after some men who weren’t breaking the law at all.” He continues, “While many of those arrested will ultimately get well-deserved time behind bars, even if a few men were wrongly targeted by officers who were abusing their power, that’s too many victims. Those men will never be able to fully clear their names, even if their found not guilty, which is why we’re fighting for transparency, and your right to know that police aren’t engaging in entrapment.”

That reporting is especially important as the government goes further and further to invade our lives, and to keep secrets from our citizens: http://www.wired.com/2014/06/feds-seize-stingray-documents/

http://www.wtsp.com/story/news/investigations/2014/04/15/pinellas-polk-sex-stings-public-record-refusal/7749057/

The Dirtiest Trick Used to Entrap Internet Sting Targets

Like clockwork, the commenters on the Operation Safe Summer are wholeheartedly in support of locking up these “perverts” and throwing away the keys. Some on Facebook suggested we dispense with due process and just take them out and shoot them. I doubt the general public realizes that many of those arrested in these type of sting operations are not the “real monsters and real scary, creepy people” that the Sheriff suggested they were the last time around, when LCSO did Operation Spider Web. Half a dozen people from that operation were acquitted. Several of the targets arrested were only teenagers, themselves, and this operation tagged several men who were barely over 20.

I discussed how these operations are set up for a high risk of entrapping people in my post yesterday, but I didn’t include one of law enforcement’s favorite tricks to entice non-criminals into being arrested. Law enforcement, including the task forces that usually propagate these internet sting operations like to claim that their decoys are acting as 14 or 15-year-olds. That sounds creepy when 70-year-olds are arrested fro trying to meet with them, but not so much when its other teenagers. What’s worse, and this is the really outrageous trick that law enforcement uses, is that they will send photographs of OLDER undercover agents in place of the supposedly younger decoys.

That’s right, agents will send their targets pictures of older, more developed decoys than they are posing as. Sometimes they’ll even send bikini pics. The precept that they are targeting perverts is blown out of the water when they use photos of older, more mature decoys.

Many times, the decoy photos may even be of legal age. The age of consent in Florida is 16 if the partner is under 24. Some of the pictures used in these operations feature 16 and 17-year-old decoy photos. That’s especially egregious when they are arresting 20-year-olds and younger. They can still prosecute the case, and they still do, even when the decoy photograph is of someone of legal age to have contact with a target. That’s dirty pool. That’s why people get acquitted from these crappy internet sting operations. Maybe this time is different, but time will tell when the details of Operation Safe Summer are released.

More details in yesterday’s post: https://crimcourts.wordpress.com/2014/06/03/lcso-ran-another-crappy-sex-sting-operation/

 

LCSO Ran Another Crappy Sex Sting Operation

  • LCSO ran an internet sex-offender undercover sting operation
  • They call it Operation Safe Summer
  • The last one had a lot of bad arrests
  • Details are scarce so far, but it looks like they arrested more kids than dangerous predators this time around

Ironically, the same day I ran an article decrying sting operations which tend to entrap people who are not looking to commit a crime, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office does a press conference to brag about their undercover sting operation. We can only hope that the investigators working this operation did a better job in their investigation than the last time. Details have not been released yet, other than the names and personal details of the accused, but the last time around, several of the cases had to be dropped, others were acquitted, and one case was thrown out by a judge due to the outrageous behavior on the part of law enforcement in entrapping one of the suspects. Yes, several creepy, bad people may be among those charged, but there are a lot of people who get stung in these operations who are not criminals. Those stories don’t make news, because the people want to put it behind them.

As I stated this morning, one of the tenets of doing undercover sting operations is that the sting should be targeted specifically to known, ongoing criminal activity. These operations, as they are generally run, do the opposite. The undercover agents go fishing, and try to cast as wide a net as possible to ensnare more people and get a better headline after the press conference. Instead of catching actual, dangerous predators, they get a bunch of bored kids who aren’t looking to do anything illegal until the cops entice them to do it.

The last time around, Operation Spider Web, arrested a kid who never agreed to do anything with the cops: he thought he was coming over to hang out with another kid. Other times, the cops didn’t even claim to be a minor until their target was already headed to the house. For almost all of them, the cops initiated contact with the targets, which is absolutely contrary to the way a proper sting should be run. That’s why several people took their cases to trial, and several of them were acquitted, but not before their names had been dragged through the mud. And Spider Web, and probably Operation Safe Summer, follow the set-up textbook operating manual.

If you wanted to draw up a textbook entrapment situation, Operation Spider Web, and many of the similar internet sting operations around the state would follow the blueprint for improper law enforcement conduct. Instead of targeting known suspects, or suspicious chatrooms, or something with ANY indication of ongoing criminal activity, these operations randomly target internet users. Instead of waiting to be contacted, or putting out bait on an online service, agents initiate contact with unsuspecting targets. Instead of letting the suspects lead the discussion, agents frequently bring it around to sexual connotations, at times pushing it, and enticing the targets with sexual gratifications. They deliberately try to walk the line so they don’t get called out on it in court, and it still comes back on them time and again. The First District Appellate court decried their techniques just last fall in the widely noted Gennette case, but here we are again. See Gennette v. State, 124 So.3d 373 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013). Gennette was the authority that caused a local judge to throw out one of the arrests last time around, based on the behavior of law enforcement.

Operation Spider Web was overseen by FDLE Special Agent Charles McMullen. He’s basically a government hired gun, who travels around the state setting up these sting operations. He doesn’t care about targeting actual predators: trying to get as many people as possible arrested. The more arrests me makes, the more his job is justified… and the less resources go toward actual dangerous predators. He signed off on most of the arrests last time, which means he was personally responsible for at a good half-dozen bad arrests last time he came to town. Bad arrests hurt innocent people, and the fact that most of the arrestees this time around are 20-somethings suggest that these cases are more set-up than good arrest. Law Enforcement got their big press conference, and will probably lead the evening news, but they probably didn’t do much to make our community safer. Especially not if these are more McMullen specials…

Those charged with these offenses should contact me or another experienced defense attorney to fight. Not only are they facing prison time, they are facing lifelong sex-offender designations. And the more energy law enforcement has to expend fighting these cases, the more likely they are to finally realize the error of their ways.

Federal Judges Are Rejecting ATF Sting Operations as Entrapment

  • These stings entice would-be robbers into fake home invasions
  • A second federal judge has thrown out cases based on this law enforcement behavior

A Federal District Judge in Los Angeles threw out the cases against three men who had been indicted for robbery, ruling that the government conduct in setting them up was outrageous and amounted to unconstitutional entrapment. The entrapment doctrine has been around for a long time, but the courts are generally reluctant to invalidate cases based on it. The law gives government agents a great deal of leeway in their investigations, but they can cross the line when they entice someone to commit a crime who would not have done so, otherwise. Apparently, there is growing use by ATF of these drug-house robbery set-ups, where agents promise vast payouts to entice suspects to agree to rob fictitious drug houses.

The biggest problem with these stings is that often, the suspects are not suspects of anything until the agents create the idea of the crime. In doing so, they turn people have little or no criminal history, into major felons. Agents create the crime to pump up their arrest and convictions numbers, while not doing anything to stop actual crime. It’s lazy law enforcement… instead of looking for actual robbers and drug dealers, they find suckers and talk them into conspiring to commit a fake crime, and then serve up an easy arrest.

This ruling is the second in a couple of months to reject the tactic. Both cases are being appealed by the government. One might wonder why they are spending the money to fight for the right to prosecute fake crime, instead of focusing on getting the real criminals off the street. At the very least, we can hope that these rulings gets the government agencies to think twice about the tactics they use to make their busts. It’s a basic tenet of entrapment law that the sting operations should target ongoing criminal activity, and has repeatedly been ruled upon by the Supreme Court, going back to the Sorrells opinion in 1932.

The government action can violate the due process tenets of the Constitution where the criminal conduct was “the product of the creative activity of law-enforcement officials.” Sherman v. United States, 356 U.S. 369, 372 (1958). “In their zeal to enforce the law, however, Government agents may not originate a criminal design, implant in an innocent person’s mind the disposition to commit a criminal act, and then induce commission of the crime so that the Government may prosecute.” Jacobson v. U.S., 503 U.S. 540 (1992). Instead of fighting to be allowed to create crime, the government should be fighting the actual crime.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/05/29/atf-stash-house-sting-backlash/9719403/