Caught in the Net

The Web was a pedophile's paradise -- until Mike and Cassandra Harris logged on.

Cassandra thought Harris's idea sounded exciting: working undercover, catching sex offenders who preyed on children. After she gladly volunteered for the assignment, Harris told her that there was just one more thing: She'd be impersonating a thirteen-year-old boy.

He brought out the baseball cap he'd been hiding behind his back and asked Cassandra to put it on. With her hair tucked up into the cap, she was transformed. The next day, Cassandra met Harris in his office and posed for a photograph, wearing the cap and a loose jacket. Tommy now had a face.


Looking back, Cassandra realized she'd led a fairly sheltered childhood. She'd grown up in Denver, with a businessman father and a stay-at-home mom. Her parents were involved in her life, attending all her sporting events and keeping a close eye on her other activities. If she went to the mall, her parents knew who she was meeting and when she was supposed to be picked up. And she was never allowed to just camp in front of the TV -- or video games, once they appeared on the scene.

Like millions of other kids, she'd heard all the rules regarding strangers. Don't talk to them. Don't get in their cars. If someone approaches and suggests something inappropriate, report it to the police or a responsible adult. She also heard the stories about bad things happening to kids who ignored the rules, but they were always something that happened to someone who knew someone else.

Cassandra graduated from college with a degree in criminal justice. Like Harris, she thought of a job in law enforcement as a way of helping others. And also like Harris, she thought it would be exciting. She landed an internship with the Jeffco DA's office, which turned into a job in the Welfare Fraud division.

And now she was Tommy.

Harris sent Levi a copy of the Tommy/Cassandra photo. It worked; Levi e-mailed that he wanted to talk on the phone with Tommy.

Cassandra started studying printouts of all the e-mails and messages between Tommy and Levi so she'd know the history. Still, she knew the call was going to be difficult: On the computer, Harris had time to think out his answers, but she was going to have to improvise quickly while staying in the character of a thirteen-year-old boy. And she was going to have to be careful not to bring up sex, which might be construed as entrapment. "Let him do it," Harris reminded her.

At last they were ready. Tommy sent Levi a phone number, and soon they were having long conversations. As much as she'd prepared, Cassandra was surprised by how graphic Levi got after just a few minutes.

Is it hard? he asked.

Yeah, Tommy answered, a little bashful. Is yours?

Levi almost salivated through the telephone when he asked Tommy if he'd measured his penis, as the man had requested in an earlier chat.

Cassandra couldn't believe an adult would say that to a kid. No, Tommy giggled, I can't find a stupid ruler.

How long is it? Levi said, clearly frustrated with Tommy's lack of focus.

I don't know, probably not as long as yours.

Levi sighed. Well, you have an idea of how long an inch is..., he said, dripping sarcasm.

Yeah, Tommy replied.

Well, look at it..., Levi said.

Tommy giggled. Maybe four.

That's cool, Levi responded. At your age, give me a break...it's not like you're an adult.

Levi told Tommy he wanted to suck his penis. Cassandra was repulsed but concentrated on giving an appropriate answer. Oral sex sounded cool, Tommy said, but he was a little frightened by the prospect.

That's cool, Levi said.

What would you like me to do for you? Tommy asked.

What would you like to do? Levi answered.

I don't know, said Tommy. Maybe the same. ... But you're going to have to be patient with me. I'm still learning.

Okay, Levi replied. You don't have to if you don't want to.

I'm scared, Tommy said. Is that normal?

Sure it is, Levi purred.

A few days later, Cassandra was sitting in a booth at a local McDonald's, wearing the baseball cap and a jacket. Harris and another investigator sat in the booth next to hers, pretending to be just another couple of diners in the busy restaurant. They were all waiting for Levi, who'd arranged to meet Tommy.

Levi, balding and overweight, showed up early. He spotted Tommy, went to the counter to buy a soft drink, then came over and sat down by Cassandra. He smiled when Tommy agreed to his suggestion that they go somewhere else.

As Levi and Tommy chatted, Harris removed his jacket, revealing his badge and the ID hanging around his neck. But Levi didn't notice; he was totally absorbed with Tommy. Suddenly, Harris and the other investigator grabbed Levi's wrists. He was under arrest.

As soon as she could, Cassandra escaped into the bathroom. As far as Levi knew, Tommy was still just a teenage boy.

Levi didn't encounter Tommy again until he was on trial in Jefferson County for attempted sexual assault. Cassandra and Harris were walking down a courthouse hallway when they passed Levi sitting on a bench. At the sound of Tommy's voice, Levi looked up -- and blanched when he realized it was coming from a petite young woman wearing a skirt.

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