Monday, May 22, 2006

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Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's Cyber Crimes Unit Marks 3-Year Anniversary With 80th Arrest

AUSTIN – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s Cyber Crimes Unit commemorated its third anniversary today following a highly successful sweep in Sugar Land that landed three alleged cyber predators in jail. The arrests of the men for using the Internet to solicit minors for sex brings to 80 the total number of cyber predators who have been arrested by the Unit and prompted Abbott to press the operators of social networking sites such as MySpace.com and Xanga to strengthen safeguards to protect children from pornography and sexual predators.

At a Cyber Crimes Summit today, Attorney General Abbott hosted local, state and federal officials, law enforcement, technology industries, and consumers to further the dialogue about the proliferation of online criminal activity and discuss technological advances that can help slow the growing threat of cyber predators and cyber crimes.

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View Video of News Conference

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John David Payne
John David Payne
Video of Payne's Dec. 29, 2005, arrest
Video of Payne's Dec. 29, 2005, arrest
Arrest Video
Video of Payne's May 10, 2006, arrest
John David Payne
Benjamin David
Arrest Video
Video of David's arrest
Weston Lee Starks
Weston Lee Starks
Arrest Video
Video of Stark's arrest

“Computers have revolutionized the way we live, but Internet-related crimes subject Texans to identity theft, privacy breaches and the exploitation of children,” said Attorney General Abbott. “Since the Cyber Crimes Unit was launched in 2003, my investigators have seen firsthand the dangerous criminals that lurk online, from those who prey on innocent children to those who spread viruses and spyware. All cyber crimes are despicable, and today’s Cyber Crimes Summit shows that public officials, law enforcement, industry leaders and consumers in Texas have a shared commitment to make the Internet a safer place.”

Attorney General Abbott called on operators of wildly popular social networking sites like MySpace.com, Xanga, Friendster and Facebook to step up their efforts to protect children and teenagers from sexually explicit images and solicitations. He pressed for more stringent age verification measures, noting that his investigators find it uncomfortably easy to locate underage profiles on some hosting sites. He also called on operators to utilize software which automatically scans all uploaded photographic images before they are posted on user accounts. If the image is found to be pornographic in nature, it could be blocked and the incident reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

“Social networking site operators have made several adjustments to their safety protocols in the last few months, but site content should be monitored more carefully to keep sexual predators on the prowl from gaining access to our children online,” added Attorney General Abbott.

Results from the recent sting in Sugar Land emphasized the need for greater online security with the arrests of three men who allegedly used MySpace.com and other online chat rooms to find young girls, initiate sexual conversations with them and arrange meetings for sex.

Cyber Crimes Unit investigators arrested John David Payne, 27, of Brenham, for the second time since last December for using the Internet to sexually solicit a minor. Chatting online with what he thought was a 13-year-old girl he met on MySpace.com, Payne allegedly engaged in graphic sexual conversation with an undercover Cyber Crimes investigator. On May 10, he was arrested at his Brenham home after he allegedly entered another chat room and propositioned an undercover investigator, who was posing as an underage girl, to meet him for sex.

Payne was first arrested on Dec. 29, 2005 after he arrived at a Bastrop location for an alleged sexual rendezvous with an underage teen. He was indicted by a Bastrop grand jury on April 18, 2006 on charges of attempted sexual performance by a child and attempted aggravated sexual assault of a child. A Washington County grand jury indicted him May 10 on two counts of online solicitation of a minor and criminal solicitation of a minor. Prosecutors with the Attorney General’s office and Washington County District Attorney Renee Mueller’s office are handling the case.

Benjamin Alexander David, 20, of Katy, was arrested May 3 after he traveled over 20 miles from Katy to Sugar Land, allegedly to meet a child for sex. David, who worked for a swimming pool company at the time of his arrest, was chatting online with an undercover investigator he believed to be a 13-year-old girl and allegedly arranged the meeting.

Weston Lee Starks, 24, of Houston, was also surprised to find Cyber Crimes Unit investigators waiting for him on May 11 when he showed up at a Sugar Land apartment for a meeting he had allegedly arranged for sex with a young teen. The Houston laborer was charged with online solicitation of a minor.

Attorney General Abbott’s Cyber Crimes Summit assembled two panels of experts, including Jim Predergast, Executive Director of Americans for Technology Leadership; Bill Walsh, Retired Lieutenant of the Dallas Police Department’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force; and Michelle Collins and Traci Carrier of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The panelists discussed law enforcement efforts and technological advances that are being pursued to stop the growing threat of Internet crimes against children and consumers.

Attorney General Abbott has made pursuing sexual predators a top priority of his administration. On March 17, the Cyber Crimes Unit was awarded a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention to establish an Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. The grant will help the Unit expand its efforts to protect children and partner with law enforcement agencies across Texas to fight against online child exploitation.

In addition to the Cyber Crimes Unit, the Fugitive Unit, which locates convicted child sex offenders who have violated the terms of their parole and could be stalking children, has arrested more than 270 such offenders. His office also has obtained convictions against 39 men on child pornography charges.

To find out more about Attorney General Abbott's efforts to crack down on sexual predators, visit the Attorney General's Web site at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov or call (800) 252-8011.