Police say man posed as gay boy
He advertised himself on MySpace.com as a "gay Toronto boy" who is a "sweet person" and easy to talk to, but police allege "Schnail" was an online sexual predator who traded child porn and convinced a 13-year-old small-town Ontario girl to perform sex acts on her webcam.
After laying four charges last week against the 23-year-old man, police added four more yesterday, including Internet luring and making child pornography. It appears to be the first case in Canada involving MySpace and an alleged sexual predator.
MySpace is a wildly popular Internet site for teens. It has sparked controversy in the United States, where critics say the website is a magnet for pedophiles and sexual predators.
The short, heavy-set man who police allege is "Schnail" appeared for a bail hearing yesterday at the Old City Hall courthouse. He was granted release if his bail conditions are met and he is to return to court July 20.
Police say they tracked the man down on MySpace, a free website that allows users to customize their own Web pages, with pictures and a "friends list," links to their profiles and other personal information they wish to post.
Users are supposed to be 14, but no proof of age is required — although the company says it will delete users whom it finds to be younger than 14 or those misrepresenting their age.
Reports yesterday indicated that MySpace has become the most popular website in the United States, surpassing Yahoo! Mail as the most visited domain.
In May, one U.S. newspaper ran a summary of 24 recent news articles involving MySpace that ranged from stories about men allegedly meeting young girls through their profiles and assaulting them, to alleged hit lists and posted threats by students with vendettas.Last month, Associated Press reported that the website — which boasts some 72 million users — has become a "lightning rod for warnings about online sexual predators.
"The story was about a 14-year-old girl from Austin, Texas, suing MySpace for $30 million claiming she was sexually assaulted by another MySpace user. The lawsuit alleges the website has "absolutely no meaningful protections or security measures to protect underage users."
Yesterday in Washington, a congressional hearing heard testimony from proponents of federal legislation that would require publicly funded schools and libraries to limit access to commercial social networking sites such as MySpace.com.
"The operators of social networking websites can no longer be allowed to turn a blind eye to the predators who lurk on the playground they created," Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott testified.
While MySpace is the largest social networking site, Parry Aftab, a high-profile U.S. lawyer specializing in Internet privacy and security law, said Canadian kids were late in coming to the site, preferring others such as tagged.com or bebo.com.Aftab, who also testified at the congressional hearing, said children who are legally able to be on the site "are leaving MySpace in droves" because it’s "either not cool, because too many parents and law enforcement are looking at the site, or they’re worried about it, there’s too much porn, too many other things going on and they don’t want to be there anymore.
"The people using MySpace now tend to be "12-year-olds who are pretending to be older" — who predators realize are kids "prone to engage in communications if anyone wants to talk to them."
MySpace did not return a message from the Toronto Star left on its media line yesterday.In an email exchange with the TV show Dateline, the company said it has "a full-time team of individuals consistently monitoring the site for terms of service violations and those believed to be underage.""It is important to note that MySpace … is a modern communication tool like a cellphone, email or instant messenger. Like any of the providers of these other services, MySpace does not pre-screen the content provided by the users … but encourages all members to recognize the public nature of the Internet and exercise caution when providing any personal information."
In the Toronto case, police allege "Schnail" set up a profile on MySpace and exchanged information with dozens of other users. The 13-year-old girl from southwestern Ontario first made contact with him through a friend, who had the profile on MySpace.
The friend listened to, and liked, some of his musical postings. On his profile, "Schnail" says he plays guitar and loves Nirvana. In the "detail" section of his profile, he says he is "here for dating, serious relationships, friends," of which he counted 27, according to his online links.The path that led police to "Schnail" is a confusing and complicated web of make-believe identities and other falsehoods, and is a lesson not just to the young people who use the Internet but also to those who assume their misdeeds will go undetected in cyberspace.
It began after a 45-year-old Montana man named Jimmy Dean Carpenter was sentenced earlier this year to life in prison for sexually abusing three girls, ages 7, 13 and 14.He also documented his sick exploits, capturing pornographic images and distributing them online.
Police allege one recipient was "Schnail," who believed he was communicating with a 13-year-old girl when it was actually Carpenter, who sent several images of himself with the 13-year-old in December 2003. In two of the images, she was holding a sign stating: "This is for Schnail," police say.Using the email address taken from Carpenter’s computer, investigators with the Toronto sex crimes unit then posed as two adolescent girls, one 12, the other 13, to make contact with "Schnail."
Police allege he then sent one officer five child pornographic images — that of the Ontario girl, who is now 15, unaware that "Schnail," who claimed to be 20, was saving the images, said Det. Const. Chris Purchas of the unit’s child exploitation section.Police allege "Schnail" sent the pictures to coax the officer into posing on a webcam, to show "we should do this … (it’s) normal. Here’s proof."Claiming to be gay is another ruse commonly used, Purchas said, since it suggests he is a "safe" contact.
Purchas said the girl’s mother was devastated to find out her daughter had been talked into posing for pictures on her webcam. He said he worries parents don’t fully realize the dangers that exist on the Internet.Neil David Jaramillo, 23, was arrested last Wednesday at his parents’ home in Toronto. He was initially charged with luring a child under 14, invitation to sexual touching, possession of child pornography and distributing child pornography. Yesterday he was charged with four additional child-porn offences.