Men in Dragnet
The middle-aged man lives in Kansas. It's early 1997, and he recently finished parole for a sex offense he committed years ago, but he responds to a sex ad in a local publication. Within a few months, he's trading letters with a Colorado woman named Ann. Ann is into the same kind of perverse sex that he enjoys. She soon makes it clear that she'd like him to have sex with her eleven-year-old daughter, Lisa. To "train" the girl and provide her with the same kind of "life lesson" that Ann herself learned when she was young.
Over the following six months, the two exchange a half-dozen letters. Ann begins to include notes from Lisa, who is also eager to meet the man. Ann keeps trying to entice him to come visit them in Colorado. He resists: He says he has to work and doesn't have vacation time. As fall settles in, he becomes worried about the weather. He doesn't want to end up stranded on a desolate patch of I-70.
Ann and the man eventually begin talking on the phone. By November, she convinces him to make the trip. "I've got some vacation," he tells her, though his tone is not especially enthusiastic. He tells her he wants to stay with her, but Ann declines: She doesn't know him that well--despite the fact that she is willing to have him bed her own preteen daughter.
Around Thanksgiving, he drives to Colorado. He meets Ann outside a restaurant in Arvada. They chitchat for around twenty minutes. He's trying to bond with her, start some kind of relationship.
They go inside for a cup of coffee. The place is packed. He doesn't mention Lisa, and Ann tries to spark his interest. "She's so excited to meet you," she says. Finally, he agrees to see the young girl. As the two pay up and leave the restaurant, local law-enforcement officers converge and arrest him for attempted sexual assault on a child.
He bonds out in January. His attorney, Darren Cantor, tries to persuade the judge on the case to return the guy to Kansas until his trial. The judge says no. Cantor is also unable to get him entered into a community corrections program. So, as he awaits trial in Jefferson County, the man must find a job and apartment here and pay for treatment and an ankle bracelet that will monitor his whereabouts. He knows no one in the whole state. But here he remains until October 1998, when he goes to trial.
At trial, Cantor's client is sentenced to fifteen months. Cantor admits that people may see his client as a "pretty sick dude." But he has doubts about the elaborate police sting that brought him to the Centennial State. "What happens when he comes to Colorado and he decides to stop off at an elementary school instead?"
Meet Ann: Detective Walt Parsons.
From his cubicle at the Arvada Police Department, Parsons runs a program that is putting his small suburban police force on the national law-enforcement map.
He catches pedophiles, but truth be told, Parsons would just as soon not talk about it, an act he likens to the "federal government releasing missle codes." Parsons says one man he was trying to bring to Colorado from Wyoming heard a story about police posing as kids to catch child molesters, and he turned back north.
Since 1987, Arvada detectives have been going after pedophiles in a way that few--if any--local law-enforcement agencies have tried. They place ads that suggest an interest in children in sexually explicit magazines, then wait for the potential suspects to come calling.
And they do. They call, they write letters and then--at the encouragement of the police--they come to Colorado expecting to meet and have sex with kids. At that point, the cops recruit a female detective to play Ann; after the men agree to rendezvous with the children, they are arrested.
The sting operations have brought more than a dozen suspects to Arvada.
The efforts began after Parsons and his former superior attended an Oklahoma City conference on crimes against children. One seminar, presented by a Los Angeles detective and a U. S. postal inspector, urged police officials to hunt pedophiles more aggressively. Impressed, Parsons and his boss decided to start a program. Now, twelve years later, he gives training seminars across the state and across the country. Last week, he left to conduct seminars in Russia.
"With the things Walt has done and the high-profile cases we've had, hopefully our reputation alongside his name has gained us some notoriety," says deputy chief Ted Mink, though he adds that the department doesn't do its work for the sake of notoriety.
Mink says that in recent years, it has not been uncommon for police agencies from across the U.S. to call and ask the APD for advice--but that as more agencies attempt to create similar programs, their reliance on Arvada is decreasing.
Still, few programs across the country track down pedophiles through publications--which is essentially tracking them through the mail. More common are programs that focus solely on the Internet: Police will masquerade as children in chat rooms and see what kind of predatory interest they receive.
Since 1996, the Jefferson County DA's office has run such an Internet program. The unit has already worked 22 cases resulting in arrests not only in Jefferson County but nationwide.
"We think of ourselves as a larger piece," says Pam Russell, the spokesperson for the Jeffco DA. "We look at ourselves not only as [Jefferson County] but part of the state and part of the nation. If we are able to prevent a child from being victimized, we've carried the message forward to help serve as a deterrent."
Though the DA's Internet program has only lured in one perpetrator from out of state, it prosecutes the numerous out-of-state cases pulled in by the Arvada cops.
Why not turn over these out-of-state cases to their original jurisdictions? Russell says that many other law-enforcement agencies are too busy. More significant, though, is that Colorado law does not mandate a real victim in sex assault cases, while most other states do. And the bottom line, says Russell, is that behavior "only becomes illegal when they actually appear at a meet." Which means that once an investigation begins with a suspect from another state, often it can only be concluded when the individual comes to Colorado.
At present, there are about 3,000 sex offenders in the custody of the Colorado Department of Corrections; their crimes include assaults against adults and against children. Most of them are housed in medium-security facilities, where the average cost for holding a male inmate is $21,230 a year; that adds up to $6,369,000 a year for all sex offenders. These offenders account for about 16 percent of the state's total prisoner intake. According to Peggy Heil, director of the sex-offender treatment program at the DOC, average prison sentences for sexual assault on a child range from 6.7 years to 13.4 years, depending on the severity of the crime.
Then there's probation. "There's lifetime supervision for many types of sex offenses," Heil says. "What that means is somebody could be placed on lifetime supervision on probation. They'd have to be on probation and doing well for ten years before they could their get their sentence discharged."
And according to DOCfigures, about two-thirds of offenders who are jailed in Colorado carry out their parole here.
"If they were calling local authorities with everyone, than I wouldn't have a concern," says deputy state public defender Joan Mounteer. "But the fact they're bringing them into Colorado..."
Mounteer handled a case that stemmed from an Arvada police sting that was heard in June by the Colorado Supreme Court. Her client, a Montana resident named William Charles Sprouse, was arrested in Colorado by Arvada police in May 1995. In 1994 Sprouse had placed an ad in a Texas sex magazine. He sought a "submissive female," "pretty w/slim build, 18-40, who craves father figure, spanking, kinky sex." In the ad, he described himself as a "dominant" good-looking male, aged 47.
Police responded to his ad in November 1994. They sent him an application to join a phony group that matched people with similar sexual interests. Sprouse returned his application a month later. He had checked several categories investigators had linked to pedophiles: "Greek Culture," "Young Love," "Teenagers" and "Family Sex."
Detectives mailed him an application from a woman in her thirties identifying herself as Ann. She was interested in the same things as Sprouse. Further, at the bottom of her application, she indicated an interest in sexual education and sexual awakening.
Over the next five months, Sprouse and Ann traded seventeen letters.
At first, Sprouse's letters were formal and dry and full of questions. He asked her to explain what she meant in her application form. "What type of interest do you have in young love?" he queried Ann in his first letter to her. He wrote that he wanted to experiment with bondage and that he wanted to try "oral, Greek, and spanking" and that his interests included marriage and "a lot of sex." He asked her why she simultaneously checked boxes indicating an interest in females and heterosexual sex.
He also wrote to the sex group, complaining that he had been mismatched: "You told me that you would send me two or three names for $3. I received only one. And it was marked that she only wanted females...I'm sending you $10 in hopes that you will honor your commitment and send me some names and addresses that I have something in common with."
But he continued his correspondence with Ann--aka Parsons, who scrambled to explain that Ann had accidentally checked the "female" box and that what she was really interested in was whether Sprouse would provide some "TLC" for Ann's eleven-year-old daughter, Lisa. Parsons wrote that Ann was "very nervous about saying much more, as not everyone in society believes as I do" and she wasn't sure if Sprouse was "thinking along the same lines."
Sprouse apparently was. He enclosed a letter in a Christmas card and wrote: "As I see it, you also want Lisa to learn about sex and all of its aspects. And as I read on, it sounds like you want someone who will participate in both you and her educations along those lines. Am I right?"
He continued: "I came to these conclusions because you seem to mention that your main concern is Lisa...If this is what you want then I could very well be the man you are looking for. And, if this is not what you are thinking I may still be your man.
"I'm also a nice guy. I'm very loving, caring, serious, romantic and love children."
Ann responded, "You are very perceptive and I'm sure you know what I have in mind for Lisa. I also want this to be Lisa's special time. I am hoping you can give Lisa your undivided and full TLC."
"What we are talking about is against the law," Sprouse responded. "But I feel as you do, that the time is right for Lisa to learn about sex." He promised to be discreet and assured Ann he was "not a postal inspector or involved with the law in anyway."
In another letter, Ann wrote that Lisa wanted to know if he had trained anyone else. He replied that he had trained another girl, a fifteen-year-old, whose training he described as "very successful...She knows how to please a man no matter what he wants."
Sprouse also sent Ann and Lisa a Polaroid photo of himself holding a microphone and singing a song--"so you will both know who and what you are dealing with." (Despite his frequent requests, he never got a photo from either of his pen pals.)
Lisa, Ann wrote, was pleased that the other girl's training went so well, but she was worried that Sprouse wouldn't like her body, because her breasts had yet to develop.
In early February, Sprouse replied, "Lisa, honey, don't feel bad because you don't have breasts. I don't have any, either." Still, he promised that under his care, "they will come in before you know it and they will be nice and firm and smooth."
As time went on, Ann referred to the relationship between the three as one of "special friends" and asked Sprouse if her daughter could call him "Uncle Charlie." Ann even suggested that he send the child a Valentine's card, which he did. Ann asked if he would recommend any books about sex that Lisa should read, and he suggested The Story of O. Lisa, Ann wrote, was "so impatient and excited" to meet Sprouse.
In the spring, Lisa herself--actually a female detective--wrote Sprouse a letter on cute stationary with balloons and a turtle sticker. "Are you going to come to see us and teach me?" she asked, making all of her dots into circles. "Mom said you might. I hope so."
In another letter, Ann asked Sprouse exactly what he had in mind for her daughter. He wrote back and promised to teach a "well-rounded course" in "all the things a girl should know," which boiled down to oral sex and intercourse. "Now I should go further because she will never meet a man who won't want her to accept anal," he continued. "But that is up to you and her...Naturally it will hurt a little bit but as I say always, no pain no gain."
Sprouse eventually agreed to come to Colorado for two weeks (he wrote that he would have preferred a month), and letters signed by both Ann and Lisa expressed their excitement about meeting him.
Sprouse arrived in Colorado in May 1995, seven months after Arvada police had first responded to his ad. Detectives rented several rooms at a local motel, where Sprouse was to meet Ann and Lisa. A detective posed as Ann and escorted Sprouse to a room where Lisa was waiting. He was arrested as soon as he entered the room. Police turned up sexual paraphernalia in his car.
Sprouse later testified that he'd had no intention of having sex with a child, that he had come to Colorado to determine the facts of the matter, and that he'd planned to turn Ann into the police if what she'd said was true.
In 1996, Sprouse was convicted in District Court of criminal attempt to commit sexual assault on a child. But the Court of Appeals reversed the judgment, arguing that prosecutors failed to prove that Sprouse was predisposed to break the law without the actions of the Arvada police. A second appeal filed by the state, however--this time to the Colorado Supreme Court--reversed the appellate-court ruling and upheld Sprouse's conviction. The Supreme Court ruled that the Court of Appeals had been wrong in disregarding evidence obtained after the police's initial contact with Sprouse and found ample evidence that Sprouse had been predisposed to the crime, including his "immediate and enthusiastic" response to the idea of training Lisa.
Sprouse served his sentence and was released in March 1998. But the court arguments continue. John Dailey of the state attorney general's office says that since the appeals court decision was published, it could have set a precedent for other courts. "We think the conviction needs to be on his record," Dailey says. "It's not a question of we want more time from the guy. We want him to have this on his record."
And while attorney Mounteer's entrapment defense of Sprouse was tossed out by the Supreme Court, her claim of outrageous conduct by the police was sent back to the Court of Appeals. Mounteer is more optimistic about her chances there. To prove outrageous conduct, she will have to demonstrate that the behavior of the police officers would be drastic enough to "shock the conscience." She expects to argue the case in the next few months.
To prevail against the entrapment defense, prosecutors must prove that the defendant was predisposed to committing the crime before the police became involved. But it's often difficult to ascertain what sort of mindset a defendant had prior to his encounter with law-enforcement agents--and that's generally what creates the evidence that is used to arrest and prosecute the suspect. Such a predisposition is usually established with the argument that the suspect had been led willingly, rather than reluctantly, toward a criminal act.
For the most part, the entrapment defense fails in court. "It's a very weak defense," says Larry Pozner, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "Courts have narrowed entrapment so badly it's difficult to make your burden."
Proponents of Arvada's program say it does not entrap suspects--that these people, given the graphic nature of their correspondence, clearly are already inclined to molest children.
"If it weren't us, it would be a real eleven-year-old," Parsons says.
But some public defenders and criminal defense lawyers argue that if it weren't for a phony eleven-year-old, potential sex offenders wouldn't be coming to Colorado at all. While the APD turns over many investigations to police departments elsewhere, other perpetrators are lured to Colorado, arrested in Colorado, jailed in Colorado and paroled in Colorado.
"Have you ever heard of the Hall of Justice League?" asks Ann Roan, a deputy state public defender. The Justice League was where D.C. Comics superheroes like Wonder Woman and Superman fought Lex Luthor's evil Legion of Doom. "They had worldwide jurisdiction. They fought crime wherever it was. The Arvada Police Department is not the Hall of Justice. Their mandate is to fight crime in Arvada."
"It sounds like it's recruiting pedophiles," says Scott Wallace, the director of defender legal services for the National Legal Aid and Defender Association. "You're not rooting out crime, you're not arresting criminals...that's not the way law enforcement works. Prevention in the criminal justice arena is not meant to include locking people up."
Wallace says it appears as if police departments such as Arvada's "don't have enough crime to do under their noses. Are you really taking care of all the criminal justice problems in your jurisdictions?"
"You would think there's enough crime that cops wouldn't have to invent more," adds Pozner. "That's what they're doing. It's preying on people. It's pushing people into being their worst."
In 1998, the department made 1,206 arrests for all violent and property crimes; the year before, 1,518. Parsons maintains that the APD's priority is local cases. "Stings are secondary. We don't set an Arvada case aside to work a sting." The stings don't take much effort, anyway--mostly just whatever time it takes to write the letters.
Some critics say that the men being targeted may have had pedophiliac tendencies but may not have acted on them. Others don't mind the sting operations themselves. But to Roan and others, the cost of catching criminals from out of state, locking them up here and then releasing them here is too much. "We've got our own problems. It's ludicrous to manufacture crime where none exists and make the people of Colorado foot the bill."
But Russell says that Colorado taxpayers would probably accept a slight tax burden to arrest child molesters.
"We're not trying to trick anybody," Parsons adds. "We're looking for people who are trying to have sex with kids. If we can do something proactively to find people who would harm children, then we get them out of circulation."
In 1997, Arvada police arrested a man from Iowa. The case had begun when detectives placed an ad in a magazine that read, "Bizarre hard to find made easy! Nothing too kinky. Your every need fulfilled."
In December 1996, a man responded to the ad. John Smith (his lawyer divulged information about the case on the condition that his client's real name not be used) was from a small town in Iowa. In his response, Smith mentioned an interest in obtaining sex slaves and wanted to know "How young are your sex slaves and how far can I go with them?" He also offered to appear in X-rated videos.
In his unwitting letters to the police, Smith expressed his desires bluntly: He wanted to rape little girls and train them to be sex slaves. By July 1997, Smith was on a bus to Colorado from Washington state. He was met at a motel by two undercover detectives. According to the detectives, Smith said he'd be willing to participate in the torture of children up to the point of death, but he said he didn't want to participate in any actual killing. Nevertheless, they claimed, he was aware that after a pornographic movie was made with one child, that child would be killed.
Smith agreed to pose in Polaroids and perform oral sex with a child. En route to meet her, he was arrested and later charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit sexual assault on a child and two other charges.
Though he pleaded guilty soon after, Smith wrote a letter to the office of Judge Henry Nieto, chief of Division 1 of the Jefferson County District Court. He argued that Detective Faith Stevens, who played Ann, had "explained that the girls they use are paid adults dressed up to look younger and everything was simulated.
"If I were interested in girls I wouldn't have to go to another state for them. I came for the money they offered with the understanding I would be with adult girls in play acting, simulated scenes."
But no one bought Smith's arguments. He was sentenced in December 1997 and received six concurrent six-year sentences for three charges.
He'll be eligible for parole on March 11, 2000.
When she talks about cases like Smith's, Mounteer notes that the license plate for New Hampshire reads "Live Free or Die." She wonders whether Colorado plates will someday say "The Pedophile State.
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