They met in an Internet chat room. She sent him a school picture so he would know what she looked like. After a couple of weeks, he told her that he loved her. They set up a date to meet at the Westminster Mall for a Coke.
But there were two problems. He told her he thought she was fifteen; she was really fourteen. She thought he was 24; in fact, he was a 42-year-old Denver Post reporter, married with a kid.
The reporter, David Algeo, who writes for the Post's business section, has been charged by the Jefferson County district attorney with felony sexual assault of a child. His arraignment is set for 1 p.m. July 20 before District Judge Michael Villano.
Although Jeffco is known for its efforts to cut down on sex with juveniles arranged over the Internet, authorities did not ferret out this case. The complaint that led police to arrest Algeo came from the girl's family.
"He's saying that it's all a big misunderstanding," says a woman who described herself as a "very close family member" of the girl but insisted on anonymity. "That's not true. He was deliberate and direct in his e-mails, and he warned her that he could get in big trouble if she ever told anyone [about their relationship]. She believed he was a college student and thought that they were meeting for a 'mall date.' But within five minutes, he had her out of the mall and back to his house. Now the man is lying, trying to save himself. Sex is sex. But when you get a 28-year difference in age, it's sick."
"The guy knew very well what he was doing," says another woman, who identifies herself as a "concerned party close to the family." "He's not stupid. He totally took advantage of her naivete." She adds that the girl has undergone psychological counseling since the alleged incident.
Asked about the charge, Algeo told Westword: "I don't want to get myself into a further mess. I don't want to bury myself."
He referred questions to his attorney, Steven R. Gayle, who responded with a written statement from Algeo: "This matter has been very painful and embarrassing to me, to my family, and to everyone involved. My attorney has explained to me that I must refrain from any further comment at this time, in order to allow the legal system to resolve the problem in an unhindered manner."
Algeo himself declined further comment to Westword, adding, "I'm not clear why this is even a story."
The girl's family thinks it is.
"I'm sick of reading his articles every other day," says the woman who identifies herself as a "concerned party." "His lifestyle hasn't changed in any way. This guy is going on with his life. He's still getting his paycheck and still has his family, while this girl is going to suffer for the rest of her life. He hasn't paid the price for what he consciously did to this girl. I mean, he has a child. How would he feel if this sort of thing happened to his kid?"
According to a highly detailed Arvada Police Department affidavit, this is what happened: The girl and a man whom the affidavit calls "Dave" (and who is later identified by police as Algeo) began their relationship in an America Online chat room around Thanksgiving 1997. The girl logged on as "15female"; Dave immediately "I.M.'d" her, using AOL's "instant message" feature, and suggested that they move to a separate chat room so they could speak privately. Dave originally said he was 24 years old, but after a few conversations, the girl said that he admitted that he was 34 years old and worked for the Rocky Mountain News. Dave gave the girl his home and work phone numbers and used the screen names ALGEOCOLO, BLDRKID3 and BLDRKID1.
The girl told police the online chats quickly evolved from talk of their hobbies to overtly sexual topics. "He talked about meeting in a hotel room to make love," the girl told police, adding that Dave would say such things as "You get me hot and sweaty" and "You give me a hard-on." The two also had discussions about their age differences. According to the affidavit, the girl said Dave stated that he believed it was all right for someone his age to have sex with someone her age regardless of what the law says. On one occasion, she told police, Dave reportedly said he'd spent the night with a fourteen-year-old girl without having sex, possibly as a means of reassuring "15female" that it was okay to meet him in person. But Dave also reportedly warned the girl that if they had sex, she couldn't tell anyone or he would get into "a lot of trouble."
Finally, on December 30, the girl and Dave made arrangements to meet in person at Westminster Mall. The girl later told police that it was Dave's idea and that she believed the two of them were going to meet for a Coke and walk around the mall, then eventually go to his place to "have dinner and make out."
The girl told her parents that she was going to see Titanic at the mall; instead, she met Dave in front of the Taco Via Restaurant. He was able to identify her from the school picture she had sent him. But instead of a stroll around the mall, the girl said Dave suggested that they "get out of here." They got into his pickup truck and drove back to his house. When they got there, the girl said, they took off their coats and shoes. According to the affidavit, Dave then told her that he loved her. He told her that his wife was at work and his son was at a cousin's house. They started kissing and hugging in the living room, then moved into the bedroom, where they lay down on the bed together, with Dave on top.
While they were kissing, the girl told police, she unbuttoned the top button on her jeans, prompting Dave to ask if he should take that as a hint. The girl said she replied, "Yeah, I guess." At that point, Dave suggested that they both take off their clothes. The two then engaged in oral sex. Afterward, the girl said, Algeo initiated intercourse. According to sources, the girl was a virgin.
While they were having sex, the girl said, Dave's wife called; he knew it was his wife because of the Caller ID box next to the bed. After they had sex, the girl told police, Dave returned his wife's call, telling her that "nothing interesting is going on here."
The two then took a shower, and Dave put the bedsheets in the washing machine. After taking care of the laundry, the girl said, Dave told her they needed to get out of the house. He took her to Taco Bell for dinner before dropping her off at her parents' house around 9 p.m. Her mom was waiting for her.
Although the girl tried to cover her tracks, her story unraveled quickly, according to the police affidavit. Not only had her stepfather intercepted an e-mail earlier that day from Dave talking about their impending date at the mall, but her parents had discovered that Titanic wasn't even playing at the mall that night. They also questioned why her hair was wet. Not long after her initial confrontation with her parents, the girl told her grandmother that she'd had unprotected sex with a man she believed to be 34 years old.
According to the affidavit, the girl's suspicious stepfather then signed on the Internet posing as the girl and entered a chatroom with BLDRKID3. Assuming his stepdaughter had had sex with the person logged on as BLDRKID3, he told police, he pursued a line of questioning to try to confirm it. Regarding the possibility of pregnancy, BLDRKID3 said the girl didn't have to worry about that because he didn't "cum" inside her. During the online chat, the stepfather, continuing to pose as the girl, said she was really only fourteen. BLDRKID3 responded to this news by writing, "You're scaring me." Under Colorado law, sexual relations between a person under fifteen and a partner who is four or more years older is considered a felony, according to Pam Russell, spokeswoman for the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office. Russell adds that the law specifically prohibits a defendant from arguing as a legal defense that he thought the child was of legal age.
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After the online conversation between BLDRKID3 and the girl's stepfather, the girl's grandmother contacted Arvada police. During interviews, the girl was able to pick out Algeo from a photo lineup, as well as accurately describe Algeo's house and its location. Based on the evidence and the girl's testimony, the cops charged Algeo. He faces one count of sexual assault of a child and one count of enticement of a child. Both are Class 4 felonies. Because they are classified as "extraordinary risk" crimes, each carries a two- to eight-year prison sentence and a fine ranging from $2,000 to $500,000.
Jeffco prosecutors decline to comment on the case. However, sources close to the investigation say the affidavit is an accurate and complete depiction. The girl's family is extremely upset about the incident, say sources.
"Life is just a series of lessons to be learned," says the woman who calls herself a "concerned party." "Unfortunately, this lesson had to be learned at the hands of a predator. In my opinion, even if he does go to jail, he'll never pay the price for what he did. We just want the public to know what kind of man this guy really is."
The girl's family has gotten rid of the computer.