Snaring Criminals on the Web!

Snaring Criminals on the Web!
Posted by FoM on January 12, 1999 at 11:15:40 PT

Detective Tracks Drug Trade With The Aid Of The Internet! Detective Mike Bowman is used to masking himself as a teen to catch pedophiles trolling for little boys on the Internet. But pretending to be a graffiti-savvy punk hip in the ways of the teen drug world, was a new challenge.
But there he was, a relatively new member of the Palm Beach County Sheriff's gang unit, surfing for the "411" on "gangsta" activity in the south end of the county. Before he knew it, a 16-year-old girl he began chatting up from Boca Raton was talking about "rolls," "marshmallows" and "beans." "I didn't know what she was talking about," Bowman said. It sounded like your garden-variety grocery list, but the detective soon learned that those were slang references to Ecstasy, the drug of choice among many wayward teens.Just days later, Bowman and fellow officers arrested the girl's 17-year-old friend, who showed up at a Winn-Dixie parking lot west of Boca Raton ready to sell a guy named "Mike" 10 "trips," or hits of acid. Officers found 37 more hits at the boy's Boca Raton house. "That's how easy it is to be Joe little 17-year-old and get dope," Bowman said. Bowman has been able to file two more drug cases since that July 3 arrest using the same tactics, though in those instances, the young men he met with tried to sell him counterfeit drugs. Still, he said, the point had been made: Drugs have joined the wares available on the Web. The cases show how cyber-sleuths are widening their net on the computer screen to catch more pedophiles, pornographers and con men. At least in South Florida, Bowman appears to be the first to use the Internet to try to monitor gang activity and to turn that surveillance into drug arrests. Officials at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Broward Sheriff's Office and the Metro-Dade Police Department say they have not yet used their computers in this way. But they all predict that it will catch on with other cyber- sleuths. "It's like anything else on the Internet -- we're finding something new every day," said Jim Leljedal, spokesman for the Broward Sheriff's Office. "I'm sure that if a detective in Palm Beach County is using the Internet to search for gang activity, we'll pick up on that as well." Bowman learned about online networking as a way to catch the bad guys when he worked in the Palm Beach County Sheriff's crimes against children unit. There he took a class on how to ferret out pedophiles and child pornography lovers.When he reached the gang unit more than a year ago, Bowman realized the same tactics can be used to detect gangs. He has so far been unable to turn his Internet surveillance into concrete leads on illegal drug activity. In the process, he has gotten an instant education on how accessible drugs seem to be to Palm Beach County teens."there's mad s--- in boca!" one 15-year-old girl wrote to Bowman's teen-age alter ego on America Online, using the lowercase letters common to Internet conversations. "easy to get down ther?" Bowman wrote back. "I walk down the street 6 houses. n-e [any] thing I want," the girl responded. Nothing came of that July 5 conversation, but the next month, Bowman hooked up online with a girl named "Dawn," who eventually led him to Nicholas Schmidt, 20. Schmidt, of Delray Beach, and a 16-year-old girl were arrested on Aug. 14 when they pulled up to the Boynton Inlet prepared to sell Bowman five iron vitamin pills at $30 apiece, saying they were "emerald" Ecstasy pills. Both were charged with sale of a controlled substance in lieu thereof, a third-degree felony. In a police report, Schmidt said he didn't trust Bowman from the start, but he decided to try to sell him the fake drugs because he was in debt. He agreed to enter a pretrial intervention program to avoid prosecution and keep the conviction off his record. Even for the unsophisticated computer user, Bowman's technique is relatively simple.He opens up an account on American Online, and uses a screen name that makes him appear part of the crowd. He first began using "Tagit," a modification of the term, "tag," which many teens use to describe graffiti.Bowman makes up a profile, saying he likes to "roll" (take Ecstasy), "spray" (graffiti) and party. He then looks up the profiles of other AOL users and tries to start conversations with teens who either seem the type to be into gangs or drugs. "It's amazing how easy it is," he said. To those who think the tactics might border on entrapment, legal experts say entrapment would only be called into question if the officers made an effort to put the idea for a criminal undertaking in the mind of someone who would not otherwise be predisposed to crime. Defense attorney Richard Lubin, who lectures on entrapment, said, "If you are someone who is into the drug culture, and a law enforcement officer merely puts himself in the position of someone who is a buyer, that is not entrapment."MAP posted-by: Patrick Henry
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