Sheriff’s Office targets cyber crimes

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – Authorities with the St. John and Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Offices have spent the past six months working across parish lines to bring down sexual predators in the area who surf the World Wide Web looking for teenage victims.

The crime fighting partnership consists of two detectives who spend countless hours trolling different social networking sites posing as teenagers waiting for predators to make their move. The duo’s efforts have produced nine warrants and five arrests over the six-month operation.

“We enter this whole other world and pose as someone else,” said St. John Sheriff’s Office Det. Tommy Young, a member of the Louisiana Electronic and Financial Crimes Task Force. “It is definitely hard for some deputies, but we get results.”

Arrested during the task force’s operations were Steven M. Bozant Jr., 31, of Denham Springs; Jesse S. Lemoine, 18, of Duson; Michael Paul Stutes, 32, of Baton Rouge; Ryan Elias Guidry, 26, of Youngsville; and Bruce Allen Kellogg, 21, of Hammond. The five men have been charged with computer solicitation of a minor, and indecent behavior with juveniles.

Young and partner Toby Aguillard, a detective with the Tangipahoa Sheriff’s Office, spent a recent press conference discussing the recent arrests, as well as the tactics they use in bringing down these “cyber criminals.”

The detectives explained that during their operation they never make initial contact with suspected predators, but sit back and wait to be targeted. They said that contact sometimes happens almost instantly.

“It’s really amazing,” said Young. “They usually start hitting right off the bat. We often have lots of back and forth communication.”

Young said some cases have been as quick as 30 minutes, while others can run well over a year. Regardless of the length of interaction, the detectives said that the task force has the software and technology to get them right up to any suspected predator’s front door.

“We take these guys seriously,” said Aguillard, who admits he had never surfed the web before joining the task force. “The Internet is just one more avenue for criminals to take. It exposes predators, and we are out there looking for them.”

Young said the typical predator is a white male between the ages of 20 and 70, who targets boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 15. He said it is usually a person with a family and a good job.

“It’s someone who had never previously been in trouble, and has everything to lose by getting involved in this,” said Young. “They use sites like Facebook and Myspace to create profiles and attract their victims.”

In addition to tracking down predators, the task force also concentrates on individuals who trade or share child pornography over the Internet.

Young said the task force has the ability to track where pornographic images come and go, who is viewing the images, and where they are being viewed. They can even pinpoint the exact location of the computer transmitting the images.

“Some of these cases lead us to very bad people who otherwise would never have been caught,” said Young. “It is astonishing how much of the stuff we find. It’s countless images.”

Since February of 2007, the task force has seized over 50 computers containing millions of images. The detectives said one image in particular had registered more than 8,000 hits, stretching across every Louisiana parish.

The detectives also said they spend a lot of time educating parents on the dangers of unsupervised Internet use by children. They said most parents don’t even realize what could be going on.

“We live in an age of a generation gap where kids know more about the Internet than parents,” said Young. “Parents need to begin to understand the net, because kids can be sneaky about what they do online.”

Young said the St. John Parish Sheriff’s Office will be more active in the community in regard to educating the public on what can go on over the Internet. He said the Sheriff’s Office is working with schools and church groups to get information out to parents about the potential dangers lurking on the web.

“We will continue to work diligently to adapt to the ever-changing world of ‘Cyber crimes,’ and catch Internet predators seeking to harm our children,” said Sheriff Wayne Jones. “We appreciate the cooperation of the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office. We are friends, and any time we have the opportunity to work together to keep kids safe, we will do it.”