February 23, 2012 at 6:36 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
D.C. police target gay men in online sting
Cathy Lanier

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said she is aware of the sting and supports it through the department’s participation in an Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Federal Public Defender for the District of Columbia has alleged that D.C. police and the U.S. Attorney’s office have unfairly targeted gay men in an Internet sting operation seeking to arrest men who “entice” or “persuade” juveniles for sex.

In a little noticed brief filed in federal court last May, Assistant Public Defender for D.C. Jonathan Jeffress said that with full approval from the U.S. Attorney’s office, a D.C. police detective posing undercover as an adult gay man has targeted gay men for sex-with-minor arrests on adult gay websites that have “no history or reputation as locations where minors go online.”

The brief was filed under Jeffress’ name along with the name of A.J. Kramer, the Federal Public Defender for D.C., who is responsible for managing a staff of public defender attorneys that represent indigent clients before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Jeffress told the Blade that among the sites targeted in the sting are Gay.com, BarebackRT.com, and SexPigs.com, which are widely known as dating and sex hookup sites for adult gay men. He said he knows of at least 20 arrests of gay men in the sting operation in which the undercover detective met the men through these websites.

These figures are far lower than the actual numbers of arrests through this sting, Jeffress said, because many of the arrested men likely retain private attorneys and their cases don’t pass through the Federal Public Defender’s office.

William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office, said that since 2005, his office has prosecuted 68 cases “in which defendants were arrested in investigations in which an undercover officer poses as an adult pedophile who has access to a child (girl or boy).” He said that of the 68 cases, “about half involved defendants attempting to exploit boys and about half involved defendants attempting to exploit girls.”

Miller cited a court brief filed by the government in opposition to the Federal Public Defender’s brief, which disputes the allegations made by the public defender, calling them “baseless.” The government brief says the allegations and legal arguments made by the Federal Public Defender are not supported by past court decisions that upheld the legality of similar sting operations in other jurisdictions.

Jeffress, however, noted that a federal judge in D.C. supported the Federal Public Defender’s arguments last month when he acquitted a gay male defendant ensnared in one the sting arrests.

Jeffress said D.C. police Det. Timothy Palchak has made nearly all of the arrests in the sting operation.

According to court records and police charging documents, the undercover detective posts a profile on one of the websites indicating his interest in meeting someone for sex, describing himself as 40 years old, “athletic,” 6-feet-2 inches tall, 200-209 pounds, and “versatile.” In at least one case, he described himself as a “no limit perv” into taboos, including “yng,” meaning young people.

Court records show the detective informs those who respond to his posting through emails or instant messages using known code words or abbreviations that he’s into drugs, including crystal meth, and invites the men to his place for sex with him.

A police charging document for one of the cases says the detective mentioned to one of the men responding to his profile that he has available to him a 12-year-old “perv boy” who “loves” to be penetrated in anal sex.

Police and prosecutors have said in court papers the “boy” is fictitious and that the men targeted in the sting have never been in contact with an actual juvenile or with the fictitious boy — only with the detective posing as an adult who claims to have access to the boy.

In his court brief, Jeffress said many of the men arrested in the sting are heavy drug users, including crystal meth addicts, and have consented to engaging in sex with the detective and the juvenile for the purpose of “going along” with the detective, who they think is a willing adult sex partner, as a means of obtaining drugs.

“Instead of apprehending the Internet predator who is actively seeking children online — such as the kind of defendant one sees time after time in the cases from other districts — the U.S. Attorney’s Office is instead arresting gay men interacting in adults-only chat rooms that have no history or reputation as locations where minors go online,” Jeffress said in his brief.

“Moreover, instead of arresting individuals who have attempted to persuade minors, the arrests are of defendants who have been persuaded by the UC [undercover detective] to meet him and the fictitious minor for drugs and sex,” the brief says.

The brief adds, “[A]s the government is fully aware, the defendants in these cases are often struggling with meth use, and are therefore agreeing to the UC’s propositions not because they are pedophiles but because they are compulsive and exceedingly susceptible to the power of the UC’s suggestions, particularly on sexual matters. These defendants are also powerfully motivated by the UC’s dangling of meth as a ‘carrot’ to reward their travel to the meeting place.”

By meeting place, Jeffress was referring to a place that Det. Palchak arranges for the men targeted in the sting to meet him and the fictitious juvenile for sex and drugs. The targeted men are arrested immediately or shortly after they arrive at the designated meeting place, court records show.

Jeffress’ brief, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, called on a federal judge to dismiss a charge against a Canadian gay man ensnared in the sting in March 2011 during his visit to D.C. on the way home from Fort Lauderdale. Police and prosecutors charged Ivan Nitschke, 47, under a federal anti-pedophile statute that calls for a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in jail and a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The statute, referred to in court documents as 18 U.S. Code, Sec. 2422(b), is aimed at apprehending online predators who seek out sex with minors.

U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg agreed to a pre-trial defense motion to dismiss that charge against Nitschke last May. Following a non-jury trial last month, Boasberg found Nitschke not-guilty on a separate charge of traveling with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct.

Boasberg ordered Nitschke released from jail, where he had been held without bail since his arrest on March 24, 2011.

The brief says Nitschke, an admitted methamphetamine addict, was arrested after he responded to a posting by Det. Palchak on BarebackRT.com.

In delivering his verdict in the Nitschke case, Judge Boasberg said he found the defendant, who testified at the trial, to be credible and honest in admitting to his addiction to crystal meth and being into promiscuous sex with multiple adult partners during his visit to D.C.

Boasberg said the defense proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Nitschke was not a pedophile and his stated agreement to join the undercover detective in a sexual encounter with the fictitious 12-year-old boy was motivated by his desire to obtain drugs from the detective posing as an adult sex partner.

“So at the end of the day, for all these reasons, in this case I strongly question the government, whether the government has even met the preponderance standard here,” Boasberg said from the bench. “And I thus have no hesitation in pronouncing a verdict of not guilty for the defendant.”

Miller, the spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney in D.C., said his office has no comment on the verdict in the Nitschke case.

He said the arrests in the sting have been part of a joint effort between the U.S. Attorney’s office, D.C. police, and the FBI through the FBI’s Child Exploitation Task Force, which he said places a high priority on combating the sexual exploitation of minors.

“When the task force learns that pedophiles are using otherwise legitimate websites to seek out children to exploit, it does not hesitate to use those sites to identify these criminals,” Miller said in a statement to the Blade. “Our office has no interest in targeting those seeking out consensual adult relationships, but remains committed to identifying and stopping those individuals who are intent on sexually exploiting children.”

He said that of the 68 “sting” cases prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s office in D.C. since 2005, 66 of the defendants were convicted, one case was dismissed, and just one defendant, Nitschke, was acquitted by a judge. Miller did not break down these numbers between the defendants that pleaded guilty as part of a plea bargain offer and those, if any, who were convicted in a trial.

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier, when asked about the sting, told the Blade she is aware of it and supports it through the department’s participation in an Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force created by the U.S. Department of Justice. The FBI is also a participant in the Task Force.

“The goal of the unit is to protect children against predators,” Lanier said, in referring to a D.C. police Internet Crimes Against Children unit to which Det. Palchak is assigned. “The group that is targeted is pedophiles,” she said. “Anyone that agrees to have sex with a child should be arrested and prosecuted.”

Lanier said Palchak and the ICAC unit “looks at several websites and does not target any one in particular…No one website is targeted,” she told the Blade in an email.

In a police charging document against Nitschke, Det. Palchak said that Nitschke initiated a private email chat with the detective in response to the detective’s profile on the website, which has since been identified as BareBackRT.com. In one of his messages, Palchak said he was getting off work at 3 p.m. “and meeting my lil perv boy that I met over the summer for a few hours. He is young so if that is not your thing we can hook up after he leaves.”

In his charging document, Palchak quotes Nitschke as responding, “Hey bud…said I was into that in my first message…fuck yeah…how old is he?” Palchak responded that the boy had not yet turned 13 and added that the boy was very “cool, vers and freaky” and “loves to be fucked and bred,” the charging document says.

It says Nitschke responded, “…yeah…into all that…and ready to join in.”

In explaining his not-guilty verdict for Nitschke, Judge Boasberg said this type of dialogue, standing alone, suggested Nitschke may have been interested in sex with the fictitious boy. But the judge said the preponderance of evidence established a “context” showing that Nitschke was not into sex with minors and that his overarching aim was to seek out drugs from the detective.

Boasberg noted that evidence submitted by the defense showed that he had been in online chats with half-a-dozen or more other men during the days prior to his online meeting with Det. Palchak. In all of those exchanges the defendants’ interest was sex with people around his age and drugs, not sex with a juvenile, Boasberg said in his lengthy verdict, which has been transcribed.

“[H]is actions show that meeting Detective Palchak is something he is barely interested in,” Boasberg said in explaining his verdict. “If you look at his actions, not what he said in the chat, but what he did,” said the judge, “it just doesn’t show someone who is interested in sex with children.”

It could not be immediately determined whether the U.S. Attorney’s office has asked Det. Palchak to change his tactics in communicating with men on the gay adult websites as a means of carrying out the sting operation following Boasberg’s not-guilty verdict in the Nitschke case.

The concerns raised by the Federal Public Defender about the possible targeting of gay men in a child-sex sting come at a time when LGBT activists have complained that the U.S. Attorney’s office has lowered charges in plea bargain arrangements for people arrested for committing violent crimes against LGBT people, especially transgender women, during the past several years.

Jeffress said the Federal Public Defender’s office has represented about a dozen gay men arrested in the sting operation whom the undercover detective met through various adult gay websites. He said he knows of at least 10 more arrests made through online contact between the detective and the defendants, with at least some through Gay.com.

In his court brief, Jeffress said prosecutors in the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s office typically charge the men arrested in the sting under 18 U.S. Code 2422(b), which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum of life in prison, as a way to intimidate them into pleading guilty to a lower charge.

The lower charge often consists of a federal statute outlawing traveling in interstate or foreign commerce “for the purpose of engaging in illicit sexual conduct with another person.” That statute carries no minimum sentence and includes a maximum sentence of 30 years. Jeffress’ brief says in most cases, judges follow federal sentencing guidelines, which call for sentences for first offenders of between 46 and 57 months in jail.

The brief says the action by the men ensnared in the sting does not appear to meet the threshold for an arrest under the more severe charge, 18 U.S. Code 2422(b), which states, “Whoever, using the mail or any facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce … knowingly persuades, induces, entices, or coerces any individual who has not attained the age of 18 years, to engage in prostitution or any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title and imprisoned not less than 10 years and or for life.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • “The goal of the unit is to protect children against predators,” Lanier said, in referring to a D.C. police Internet Crimes Against Children unit to which Det. Palchak is assigned. “The group that is targeted is pedophiles,” she said. “Anyone that agrees to have sex with a child should be arrested and prosecuted.”

    While I agree that pedophiles should be targeted and I am not opposed to stings- one would think an appropriate sting would be to have someone pose as a child online- solicit sex- and then arrest the person that responds. Why would you have a cop offer drugs and himself for sex- then offer a child along with himself -to do this? It seems to be very circuitous and clearly as this one case discussed shows it doesn’t get the people you want arrested. Why confuse the issue with drugs when we know that people on drugs or needing them will often say anything to get them.

  • Good reporting. It seems to me that the accused in these cases need treatment for substance abuse, not to be charged with pedophilia. Kudos to Jeffress, Kramer, and Judge Boasberg for recognizing this and not letting the fact that these men are substance users undermine their credibility in the eyes of the law. Perhaps the police department’s resources and Detective Palchak’s online time might be better spent luring potential partners into treatment, rather than into a bogus legal morass of needless shame and ruin. If any actual minors were in danger, then the statute would be enforceable, but the facts presented here suggest entrapment at best.

  • What’s clear is that Boasberg erred. Erred horribly. Haven’t you all ever watched Perverted Justice on cable tv? Sounds like the same thing. Hint: Don’t engage in arranging sex on the internet, and especially not with children (one shouldn’t even have to mention the latter…)

  • An outstanding story by Lou Chibbaro on a commendably proactive effort by the public defenders to combat what at least suggests police entrapment. Not only does answering the sting ad “not appear to meet the threshold for an arrest” under the statute, but entrapment means influencing someone to offend who would not otherwise be disposed to commit an offense. I suppose the elements of entrapment could not be proved here, or else the public defender would have argued it, but what the sting did sounds very much like it to me.

  • I am not surprised that D.C. police would target gay men because there is a large ignorant misconception equating homosexuality with pedophilia that dates back to the days of McCarthyism. They are not one and the same. Most pedophiles are heterosexuals (about 99% or less)–even when their ‘targets’ are same sex children. Police themselves are often very ignorant about sexual matters and this dates from Victorian puritanism of the 19th century in which a woman would literally die of embarrassment if she had a ‘female’ problem.

    There is too much risk of entrapment here and getting the wrong person. Cops often engage in entrapment proceedures such as coming on to a person online making them think that a child is on the other end and the person about to be entrapped simply is doing nothing more than having a conversation with the fake child. In an NBC Broadcasting police entrapment scheme—the alledged pedophile was a teenage boy who had driven 20 or so miles to see what he thought would be another teen of the same age who he had hoped to date–they had met online. This boy teen was no pedophile.
    In other cases; teens were sending nude photos of themselves to other teens. Paranoia ran supreme again in that the cops thought that the teen sending the photos of herself to an intended teen of the same age was a pedophile. They were shocked to find that no pedophiles were involved and arrested the girl for indecent exposure. IN another case; a teacher was contacted online by one of her male students for school work help. When their session ended the teacher said ” I’ll see you at school tommorrow”. Cops had been watching a neighbor and had mistakenly ‘tuned’ into the teachers computer. When they saw.read this statement from the teacher–the teacher did not make it to school the next day—she arrested as pedophile and she nearly lost her job over this tragic error –She was no pedophile.

    The First amendment states that everyone has the right of free expression. The entrapment begins when the cop gets the person on the other end to ask certain questions. In the Baltimore/Washington area there are many black kids with no father and adults like Big Brother groups which help children like this such adults are always in danger no matter how harmless they are from too aggressive pursuit of pedocphiles by cops.; While children need to be protected —there are situations in which protection goes too far not not to mention cops doing so. Parents need to monitor their kids on the net and when they do not and the kid gets involved with a pedophile–the parents should be held equally responsible as the pedophile. Some libraries are so paranoid that kids will see something that should not see or come in contact with a pedophile that adults cannot do legitimate research for instance on breast cancer.

    We have too much Mcarthyist type of paranoia going on in American Society today and that is often at the expense of Civil Rights. This paranoia has gotten so bad that many adults even considering teaching children in schools or in other professions in which they will come in contact with children are not doing so for fear that someone is going to tell a falsehood about them simply because the teacher flunked them on a test. Once a falsehood is told –the damage never goes away even when it is proven a falsehood in Court. That is not good. The Constitution needs to be protected because it cannot protect itself and if we do not stand up and support it against those who want to destroy it –we will not have any civil rights.

    • Someone was claiming to be offering up a 12-year-old for bareback breeding. Are you SRSLY rising to defend someone who was willing to look the other way in exchange for a hit of meth?

  • Is this the McCarthy era? All gay men are corrupters of children? A pox upon your house of intolerance!

    • Intolerance of what? Men who are happy to look the other way while a (fictitious) 12-year-old boy is offered up to be sexually abused for a hit of meth?

      Yeah, I’m intolerant of that.

  • If I encountered someone online who was offering up a 12-year-old for bareback breeding, I’d call the police and offer to help snag the dirtbag.

    No sympathy for the arrestees.

  • Entrapment of Non-Pedophiles

    Facts About Homosexuality and Child Molestation

    The empirical research does not show that gay or bisexual men are any more likely than heterosexual men to molest children. This is not to argue that homosexual and bisexual men never molest children. But there is no scientific basis for asserting that they are more likely than heterosexual men to do so. And, as explained above, many child molesters cannot be characterized as having an adult sexual orientation at all; they are fixated on children.
    So according to psychological research, this ignorant detective was trolling for “pedophiles” on sites where men are oriented towards men. If it were sites for young children there might some foundation for the charges, but this is purely homophobia at it’s worst. At best all of these cases were entrapment and what they actually were is this Police Chief’s lack of education/IGNORANCE on the profile of men that actually have sex with children as a sexual preference.

    Lanier once again is showing her disdain for the L.G.B.T. community by allowing this fishing expedition to incarcerate innocent men who’s only real crime is addiction. Addicts are well known to act out of character to obtain their drug of choice. That’s part of the definition of addiction: using in spite of adverse consequences. The adverse consequence here was having to play the role of a hebaphile. No not a pedophile by the true definition; Sex with pre-pubescent children. But hebaphile; someone that has sex with teens.

    Clearly these men were wrong to even respond to this ad. Common sense should have told them this was an extremely dangerous man. If it were an ad posted by a genuine boy rapist I certainly would hope the men arrested would have done the right thing and had such a perpetrator arrested and convicted.

    • Dating/hook-up sites have become self-segregated venues. The conclusion in the UC Davis link you provided states that gay/bi men are not more likely to be pedos; conversely, they’re not less likely either. That the UC used known gay-centric sites as his means of establishing contact isn’t surprising — it’s simply a different audience. It may feel like we’re being picked on, but I don’t that is the case*. (* Opinion may change if/when additional information is available.)

      All of that said, don’t think I’m justifying the method described in this article. As stated in the comments above — at least in the case of Nitschke — the guy was lured more by access to drugs than pedo sex. Lanier is attempting to wash her hands of the situation and, honestly, standing up to the questionable approaches used is tough battle when the Feds are running the show. Not condoning her actions, but it begs the question of just how much detailed info she had/has regarding the operation. If my years of watching Law and Order have even a tiny nugget of truth, the turf battles between local and federal enforcement agencies would keep Det. Palchak’s actions shielded from view during the operation. MPD/Lanier isn’t drawing a line on this in the way I wish she would.

  • ***
    William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office, said that since 2005, his office has prosecuted 68 cases “in which defendants were arrested in investigations in which an undercover officer poses as an adult pedophile who has access to a child (girl or boy).” He said that of the 68 cases, “about half involved defendants attempting to exploit boys and about half involved defendants attempting to exploit girls.”

    The concerns raised by the Federal Public Defender about the possible targeting of gay men in a child-sex sting come at a time when LGBT activists have complained that the U.S. Attorney’s office has lowered charges in plea bargain arrangements for people arrested for committing violent crimes against LGBT people, especially transgender women, during the past several years.

    The 50/50 ratio since 2005, cited above, renders MPD and USAO denials of gay-targeted entrapment not at all credible in this instance. Whatever the legal elements of entrapment, the LGBT community understands– clearly better than MPD and USAO… if it walks and quacks like a duck, it’s likely a duck. And this duck is not blind justice.

    This appears to be another slippery slope of institutional homophobia at MPD and USAO. Appearance matters. What they apparently don’t yet get is that guarding against institutional anti-LGBT (and other) biases is an ongoing responsibility of theirs.

    Justice not administered fairly– or thoughtlessly conducted with bias– has a long-term corrosive effect on police/ community cooperation to fight violent crimes.

    Chief Lanier’s response is particularly disappointing. It amounts to a non-denial denial, ignoring the issues and questions raised by Judge Boasberg and the Public Defender for DC, while implying it’s just a matter of MPD cooperation with a DOJ program. It’s de facto ‘Trust MPD. Trust the feds.’

    However, at a time when many of us are seeking to build trust and cooperation among our LGBT communities and MPD/USAO to effectively combat violent crime, this is a significant step backward in building MPD’s and USAO’s credibility.

    Chief Lanier and US Attorney Machen ought to examine/ re-examine this issue and its likely adverse consequences more carefully.

    (Great, thorough reporting, as usual.)

    • Part of the entrapment comes when explicit porn or pictures are sent by the CI or UC person. Even it they are not opened or viewed they count as having child porn on your computer. The next issues is the interstate travel. As many people in the Washington DC area work and live in different states, or live in the District, and work someplace else, interstate travel is not the same as it may be in other areas. Also some of the men were introduced to the Meth by the CI or UC. If this does not qualify for entrapment I don’t know what would. I realize that there should be some consequences for the behaviors, but to be looking at up to life is worng. The time that most of the men received is a long time for one mistake, if it wasn’t for the interstate travel it would be a lot less time.

      A loving mother

  • The is a problem here is not easily understood because everybody has been taught violence solves everything. Is there any doubt that police will next be killing innocent gay men and just saying the guy groped them and deserved to be killed? Dr. Ron Paul has explained if a person has a drug problem it would be better to treat them as a patient instead of a criminal. But instead of finding them help the government puts them in prison to be raped and beaten. Toss in a factious boy they are lying about to perpetrate an ultimate violent life of torture. Instead of just humanely gunning them down.

  • Most meth users could be talked into assassinating the Queen for an 8 ball. This is bizarre in the extreme. Kudos to the judge who threw it out!

  • D.C. is not the only place this is happening,a friend of mine was talking to a 35 y/o man he met on Manhunt, after several conversations the man started talking about having sex with his girlfriends children, a 12 y/o boy and was getting ready to {break in the 5 y/o ) My friend in disbelief continued to talk to him.The man kept insisting that they meet at a hotel and my friend refused. It was a Catoosa County Georgia detective that he was talking to. The exact same people that prosecuted Tanya Craft, The detective was relentless in his pursuit and was again told that he would not meet him at the hotel, the detective said bring wine coolers,condoms & lube.If he had brought the items mentioned it would have been 6 more charges against him. 2 children times 3 items. none of these items were in his car. With the only intentions of seeing if children were involved he agreed to meet at a Subway shop at lunch time 2 days after Christmas.The parking lot was full and children were playing close by when Catoosa county surrounded his car, with 2 guns on his head and other police pointing shotguns he was slammed to the ground and was told that he would be wearing stitches if he moved. This could have been a very dangerous situation in such a crowded area. Catoosa county has an entire wing set up just to house the people caught up in this sting. Please read Rhonda Cook’s article in the Atlanta Journal & Constitution from April 2011. This 27 y/o grad student is now facing life in prison.Any suggestions or resources would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

  • What about the ones lying about HIV and using str8/married/curious to lure college kids to think they are clean and then get aids

    it happened to me, and im very sick and h ate myself

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