D.A.'s child-sex unit makes 100th arrest

(Original publication: June 30, 2004)

WHITE PLAINS A Manhattan real estate attorney was arraigned yesterday as the 100th suspect in an Internet sex sting operation begun five years ago and which has resulted in a 100 percent conviction record of adjudicated cases.

Jeffrey Kozlow, 42, of 415 E. 54th St., was charged with first-degree attempted disseminating indecent material to a minor, a felony. He is accused of starting a sexually explicit online relationship with an undercover officer posing as a 14-year-old boy, investigators said.

Kozlow's arrest marks a milestone for Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro's High Technology Crimes Bureau, a unit she created less than a month after she was elected to her second term in 1997. After a period of training and research, the unit began engaging in online conversations in 1999, posing as minors and setting up meetings in public places where the suspects were arrested.

"The conviction rate speaks to the exceptional work of our investigators," Pirro said during a recent interview inside the unit's cramped and overheated office space in the County Courthouse at 111 Martin Luther King Blvd.

"The fact that these defendants continually reach out to find children even though we've been as high profile and as visible as we've been is an indication of how determined they are to molest children," Pirro said. "And they don't show up at a meet to engage in a virtual fantasy. They show up at a meet to engage in sex with a child."

Investigators in the unit are trained to engage suspects in ways that do not involve entrapment or enticement and will sometimes cultivate a suspect for several months before "harvesting" them with a meeting after enough evidence is gathered.

Over the years, the occupations of those pleading guilty have run the gamut from choir leaders to correction officers to, in one high-profile case, the former director of waterfront development for Yonkers. And while some have gone to prison, the majority plead guilty before trial in exchange for probation sentences.

Of the 100 arrests, all have been men, 77 have resulted in convictions and 23 are currently pending adjudication. Of the 77 convictions, 55 71 percent received probation, and 22 29 percent received jail sentences.

The first suspect to fight the charges against him was Anthony Stabile, a Long Island man who was arrested at The Galleria mall in White Plains in 1999 when he arrived to meet who he thought was a 14-year-old girl. After a trial that lasted a week, Stabile was convicted and served 3 1/2 years of a sentence of one-to-four years.

While Pirro and others advocate for increased penalties and harsher sentencing laws for sex offenders, some researchers disagree.

Karen Terry, a professor specializing in sex-offender research at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said that sentences of probation with mandatory treatment have proven to be more effective than prison.

"It depends on the type of offense but, for the most part, prison doesn't do much of anything for them," Terry said. "Prison is obviously a dangerous place for these types of offenders, and they tend to isolate themselves and devolve into a cycle of self-pity. There are treatment programs in prison, but there tends to be a lack of resources and a lack of training for those types of programs, so consequently they're going to get much better treatment programs on the outside."

Terry also said that the most recent data suggest that recidivism rates for sex offenders have been exaggerated and generally range between the high-single digits to the low teens percentage-wise, while property crimes like burglary have a 60 percent recidivism rate.

Pirro disagrees and believes that judges are siding with her.

"What we're seeing is a judicial culture that is now recognizing the necessity to incarcerate some of these Internet sting defendants, and we're seeing a changing approach to these cases," Pirro said. "It's not unlike domestic violence 25 years ago, when there was a way of thinking that these defendants didn't belong in jail."

The 100th arrest came the same day the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a law passed by Congress in 1998 called the Child Online Protection Act was unconstitutional. The law imposed a $50,000 fine and a six- month prison sentence for posting material on the Internet deemed harmful to children for commercial purposes.

The court held that filtering technology and other methods are available to prevent children from viewing material that is otherwise protected by the First Amendment.

Send e-mail to Bill Hughes: whughes@thejournalnews.com