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[infowar.de] Child-porn probe used first live Internet wiretap
Child-porn probe used first live Internet wiretap
By Sam Stanton and Denny Walsh -- Bee Staff Writers - (Published May
Every time Jason Heath Morgan sat down in his Chico apartment and
tapped a key on his computer, the law was watching.
For more than three weeks, every Web site, every e-mail, every photo
image, every chat room conversation he viewed or took part in was
scrutinized, as the 26-year-old Morgan unwittingly became the first
person in the United States to have his Internet usage monitored live
by federal agents probing child pornography under a new law.
Wednesday, as federal and state officers involved in the probe were
honored for their efforts in Washington, D.C., fallout from the case
Agents are tracking 1,700 e-mail and chat-room users Morgan allegedly
was in contact with as part of a massive child-pornography ring.
Suspects in Live Oak, Las Vegas and Stockton have been arrested based
on leads from the wiretap evidence.
And although civil libertarians have raised concerns about other
government efforts to monitor personal computer use, this law, passed
in the shadow of the Bush administration's highly publicized USA
Patriot Act, so far has attracted little opposition.
"It's a noble thing," said Ronald Wilczynski, the Sacramento FBI agent
overseeing the probe. "These kinds of investigations involve a child
For now, the Sacramento case marks the only use of the new
surveillance authority. But the investigation and its unprecedented
use of a real-time Internet wiretap is being heralded by law
enforcement officials and children's advocates alike.
At a ceremony Wednesday in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, U.S.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., presented an award from the National
Center for Missing and Exploited Children to Sacramento-based
authorities involved in the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Laurel White, FBI special agent Reginald K.
Ogata and state Department of Justice special agent Jeff Mackanin were
among those honored for their efforts.
"This was the first time such authority was granted," said McGregor
Scott, the U.S. attorney in Sacramento, who attended the ceremony.
"What we did here was in real-time follow this guy as he's entering
chat rooms or exchanging information."
Morgan pleaded not guilty to child pornography charges and remains in
federal custody. Based on wiretap information, he was also charged in
Butte County with multiple sex crimes against children. Morgan came to
the attention of law enforcement last year as he allegedly cruised
chat rooms frequented by suspected pedophiles.
Undercover agents from the California Department of Justice were in a
chat room, one of them posing as a person seeking information on how
to have sex with a young girl and boy in his care.
"He (Morgan) was going to train them on how to perform sex, that's
what he thought he was doing with the undercover agent," Wilczynski
said. "But he was very cagey with us."
Frequently, pedophiles try to detect undercover agents by asking that
they e-mail child pornography or take part in acts that the officers
cannot legally perform.
"He was very cagey with these litmus tests, and would say, 'Send me
some pornography,' " Wilczynski said. "Of course, they couldn't do
"They could see he was very active (on the Internet) but he wouldn't
do the dance with law enforcement."
Previously, agents would have had limited ability to go after Morgan,
other than obtaining a search warrant for his computer and its
But, a federal law passed in April 2003 provided a new option.
The PROTECT Act - officially Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to
End the Exploitation of Children Today - gave authorities the right to
tap into a suspect's computer to catch child abusers, including
Most of the publicity generated by the act has focused on provisions
that increased penalties for child abusers and took much of the
sentencing discretion out of the hands of federal trial judges.
When Sacramento agents made their request in August 2003, the wiretap
provision had not yet been used, and authorities had to convince a
federal judge to grant the authority.
"This is the technique of last resort," Wilczynski said. "You have to
articulate and say all these other things won't work, therefore we
want to go and do an interception."
The court order was granted, with a requirement that two groups of
agents be involved in monitoring Morgan. The first scrutinized his
computer use and culled out everything not related to the
investigation. The rest was turned over to the second team.
Technology used in the surveillance is very similar to a phone tap.
Agents attached a monitoring device to Morgan's phone line, then
tracked his Internet activity from remote computers.
With the wiretap in place, "it doesn't matter who you're dealing with,
we're standing over the top of you watching everything that's going
on," Wilczynski said.
And, with Morgan, there was plenty to see, officials said.
"There were almost 1,700 people intercepted," Wilczynski said. "We
just got one case outside of California, where the agents went up to a
guy's house and did a 'knock and talk' and he said, 'I was expecting
Others snared through the wiretap include Tim Weintraut, 37, of Las
Vegas; John Palmer, 35, of Live Oak; and Frank Lagomarsino, 28, of
Stockton. Weintraut and Palmer have pleaded guilty and agreed to
cooperate. Lagomarsino has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.
Officials say Morgan's arrest last September was as routine as such
cases can be. Agents staked out his apartment, waited until he left to
go to a convenience market for a soft drink and confronted him when he
"There was nothing remarkable, we just met him at the front of the
apartment and said, 'This is what we're about,'" Wilczynski said.
"They had some discussion and entered his apartment.
"His machine was on, and on his screen was one of the chat rooms we'd
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