Friday, September 24, 1999

It's rare for such cases to go to trial

Internet sex trial ends in prison term

An evaluation said that he was at a high risk to reoffend and he would likely focus on girls.

By KIMBERLY O'BRIEN
THE ROANOKE TIMES

   A 29-year-old Southwest Roanoke man sentenced Thursday to two years in prison for soliciting a 13-year-old girl for sex over the Internet will remain free on bond while his case is on appeal.

    In May, a jury found Gregory Michael Bloom guilty of two felony charges, which stemmed from correspondence Bloom initiated with a Roanoke County girl in November. Police got involved after the girl's mother learned about their conversations, and Bloom was arrested after a police detective, posing as the girl, set up a meeting.

    Bloom's lawyers unsuccessfully argued during his trial that Detective S.H. Smith set a trap for Bloom. Bloom himself testified that he only went to the meeting place -- the Burger King at Cave Spring Corners -- to see who it was.

    The case was the first of its kind to go to trial in the Roanoke Valley, while national experts have said it's rare for such Internet cases to go to trial. According to Roanoke County Lt. Mike McGuire, police are receiving more and more complaints from parents about inappropriate behavior over the Internet and were watching how Bloom's case fared to help them decide how best to handle future cases.

    Bloom's initial sentencing date in July was postponed after the prosecution requested a sex offender evaluation. That evaluation, discussed in Roanoke County Circuit Court on Thursday, said that Bloom was at a high risk to reoffend and that he would likely focus on prepubescent females.

    Chris Kowalczuk, Bloom's lawyer, said Bloom would not be a risk if he got the proper therapy.

    Bloom, according to testimony, has been seeing a counselor since February. Steve Walker, a licensed counselor, told the court Thursday that despite Bloom's mood swings and obsessive-compulsive traits, Bloom was doing well.

    Walker also said he didn't see his patient as a threat to young girls. Bloom, he added, has been in individual and group therapy for sexual addicts.

    "The sooner he gets the therapy ... the better off he'll be long term," Walker said. "With treatment, he is much less likely to reoffend."

    At the May trial, the girl, now 14, testified that during the course of their conversations, she was offered $100 and alcohol by Philter425 -- Bloom's America Online screen name at the time -- if she would sneak out. The teen-ager, who during one conversation was referred to as "sexy" by Philter425, told him she was 15.

    Bloom testified Thursday he had agreed to stay away from the Internet and have his phone line disconnected, as well as to allow unannounced inspections of his home by authorities. Judge Diane Strickland, in turn, made those conditions part of his sentence.

    Prior to the sentencing, however, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Rick Buchanan argued that there was no way to completely monitor Bloom's behavior -- a concern Strickland also brought up.

    "There are a lot of red flags in this case," Buchanan said. "Mr. Bloom, despite his positive tendencies, might not be able to help himself."

    Strickland sentenced Bloom to the two 12-month sentences recommended by the jury, but agreed to the requested $25,000 bond while the case is on appeal. Bloom will be on probation while the case continues .

    The judge also instructed that Bloom's computer be kept at the police department and that he not have any unsupervised contact with adolescents -- including the Roanoke County girl involved in the case.

    Kowalczuk said he was filing the appeal Thursday.


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