Tag Archives: spiderweb

Child Sex Investigator Arrested for Child Sex Offenses

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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

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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.

Another Sex Offender Sting in Sarasota County This Week

This internet sting is the second one conducted by the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office in less than a year, this week netting 30 arrests, including a couple from the Fort Myers area. Like the local Operation Spiderweb sting conducted in Lee County last year, suspects range in age from 21 to 64. I discussed Operation Spiderweb here on Crimcourts a few months back.

Something that stood out in the NBC-2 story on this operation, is that the Sarasota Sheriff, Tom Knight, specifically addresses the issue of entrapment. He states that he believes these individuals have done it before. I don’t know what evidence he has of that, but it goes directly to predisposition, which could negate entrapment. He goes on to say, “We didn’t ask anyone to meet us, they contacted us.” That goes to who initiated the contact, which is also an important consideration where entrapment may be an issue.

I point out the Sheriff’s comments specifically to contrast them to Operation Spiderweb by LCSO. Several of the defense attorneys in town have gotten together to compare fact patterns, and we have seen several cases where the investigators initiated contact. Some of these contacts occurred in adult forums that specifically prohibit juveniles from viewing. That’s a major issue for demonstrating predisposition. Unlike the example given in Sarasota, where the detectives placed a post specifically claiming to be 14 years old, Detectives responded to adult posts. It appears that the Lee County detectives failed to observe the basic safeguards against entrapment. That’s bad police work, and runs the risk of creating crime where crime would not have existed. That’s a violation of our Due Process protections. It’s also worth noting that at least one of the suspects arrested in the previous Sarasota sting was found not guilty at trial.

The sticky web of justice

It cracks me up when law enforcement attaches cute-sy names to their sting operations, recently the Sheriff’s Office has conducted a Felon-sweep and Operation Spiderweb.  My ongoing favorite are the DUI-targeted enforcement patrols they call Wolfpacks.  The drivers are being hunted, you see…

The latest is the Lee County Sheriff’s Operation Spiderweb, wherein the deputies spun a net to entangle 40 “sick, creepy animals” as Sheriff Mike Scott referred to them.  And to be sure, some of them are:  investigators posed as children as young as 11, and lured several dozen predators, including a schoolteacher, to make sexual plans with the undercover officers they believed to be young.  However, not all of these arrestees are the “real monsters and real scary, creepy people” that Sheriff Scott suggests they are.  Some of them are only teenagers, a few years older than the non-existent victims.  Over half of them are under the age of 30.  There were never any children in harm’s way.

The recent discussion of the Sarah Jones case has prompted me to discuss the problems with treating all sexual criminals as horrible sexual predators.  If a 16-year-old has sex with a 23-year-old, it’s fine.  But if an 18-year-old talks about fooling around with a 15-year-old… they are branded as monsters and face charges that could send them to prison for decades.  Many of the defendants charged in Operation Spider Web weren’t just charged with one count.  Instead, they got multiple counts of enticing, using a 2-way communication device, and travelling to meet the non-existent minor, or more.

Additionally, the political motivation is clear as the Sheriff holds a big press conference, just more than a week before the upcoming election.  Any time you get enticement charges, there are concerns about entrapment:, would these people have taken a criminal turn if law enforcement agents weren’t guiding them that way.  The concerns about law enforcement’s motives are increased when the sting is an election tool.  The more “predators” they catch in their net… the bigger the headline going into the final weeks of campaigning.  It will be fascinating to see how these cases pan out. #operationspiderweb