Disney executive `solicited minor'

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The Independent Online
A SENIOR Internet executive at the Walt Disney Company's online Go Network has been arrested for soliciting sex with an under-age girl in a sting operation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Patrick Naughton, a 34-year-old computer whizzkid who helped develop the Java programming language before joining the Disney-owned Internet portal company, Infoseek, was arrested last Thursday in Santa Monica,southern California. He had travelled from his home in Seattle hoping to meet a 13-year-old girl with whom he had exchanged explicit e-mail messages over seven months. The "girl" turned out to be an undercover FBI agent. Infoseek said yesterday that Mr Naughton, who had been hired to oversee content and technology at the Go Network, was no longer an employee of the company.

FBI affidavits said that Mr Naughton had struck up exchanges with two "girls", both of them FBI men, on an Internet chat forum. Using the screen name "hotseattle", Mr Naughton continued to communicate with one of the "girls" even after being told repeatedly that she was under age. On one occasion, he supplied a web address containing a picture of male genitalia which he said were his. FBI special agent Bruce Applin, who said he had about a dozen online encounters with Mr Naughton, reported: "I described myself as a 13-year-old girl from Los Angeles .... During the conversation `hotseattle' said he was interested in meeting in Los Angeles `sometime' to `kiss, make out, and play and stuff'. He also said he would `lick and suck you all over'."

Following his arrest, agent Applin said, Mr Naughton had agreed to a search of his laptop which contained sexually explicit pictures of children. Since the rise of the Internet, law enforcement agents have focussed on rooting out paedophiles and child prostitution rings. Going undercover in cyberspace is relatively straightforward and arrests have come thick and fast.

Some free-speech activists have criticised the cyber-police's methods, saying they sometimes failed to distinguish between private fantasy and intent to commit a crime and have in effect preyed on the weaknesses of their targets by sexual provocation.

In Mr Naughton's case, the FBI became involved because he crossed state lines "with the intent of having sex with a minor". He was released on $100,000 (pounds 62,500) bail and faces up to 15 years in prison if he is convicted.