Defense attorney:‘The thought police have arrived in Roanoke County’

Man guilty in Internet sex case

A jury convicted Gregory Michael Bloom of two felonies–solicitation to commit sodomy and attempting to take indecent liberties with a child.

By KIMBERLY O’BRIEN

THE ROANOKE TIMES

In the first case of its kind in the Roanoke Valley to go to trial, a 29-year-old Southwest Roanoke man was convicted Friday of soliciting a 13-year-old girl for sex over the Internet.

Gregory Michael Bloom's two lawyers unsuccessfully argued that their client hadn't committed a crime because he hadn't actually done anything–only expressed thoughts and words in cyberspace. At one point during the daylong trial in Roanoke County Circuit Court, defense attorney Christopher Kowalczuk accused police of playing "Big Brother," looking into people's homes and computers.

"The thought police have arrived in Roanoke County," Kowalczuk said. 'That's what this case is about."

The argument apparently didn't hold much weight with ;the seven-man, five-woman jury, which convicted Bloom of two felonies after about two hours of deliberation. The jury set a sentence of 12 months in jail on each of the two charges – solicitation to commit sodomy and attempting to take indecent liberties with a child – for a total of two years.

The charges stemmed from correspondence Bloom, using the screen name Filter425, initiated with a 13-year-old Roanoke County girl in November. Police got involved in February after the girl's mother learned of the conversations after a note passed in school – referring to the online relationship – was intercepted by a teacher.

The mother, who is not being identified by The Roanoke Times to protect her daughter's identity, signed onto America Online on her home computer after conferring with police. The mother testified she was contacted by Fi1ter425, who sent her a message reading: "Hi, sexy. Looking forward to Friday/Saturday night."

The girl, who is now 14, testified that she told Filter425 she was 15 during their conversations. But while she claimed no sexual talk had previously occurred between them, she said he once offered her $100 and alcohol if she would sneak out.

Bloom was arrested Feb. 5 after Detective S.H. Smith, posing as the girl, went online and allowed Filter425 to contact him. What followed was a conversation during which Bloom offered to pay for a cab for the girl to meet him, and then agreed to meet her at Cave Spring Corners shopping center.

Also during the conversation, Bloom made sexual references. He was caught when police, not the girl, showed up at the meeting place in a silver Toyota Tercel.

In court Friday, Kowalczuk accused Smith of setting a trap for Bloom, who he said was at most guilty of sinning. While lots of people may have sexual fantasies or think lascivious thoughts, it doesn't constitute a felony, Kowalczuk said The attorney also argued that when sex entered the conversation, Bloom was talking to Smith, not the 13-year-old girl.

"In his mind, he was dealing with an underage person," countered prosecutor Patrick Buchanan.

During his closing statements, Buchanan called the case one of a man "preying on children on the Internet" and, over the objections of Kowalczuk, referred to Bloom as a sexual predator. Smith's intervention was not playing Big Brother, Buchanan said, but "giving a person like Mr. Bloom the opportunity to sink to his own level."

Kowalczuk said Bloom probably would appeal.

Friday's case in Roanoke County has followed a spate of similar cases throughout the Roanoke Valley. None, however, has gone to trial, and most of the defendants have pleaded guilty.

Parry Aftab, a New York lawyer specializing in cyberspace law who is executive director of CyberAngels, an offshoot of the Guardian Angels, said defendants in Internet sex cases normally don't want to face a jury.

"They want to plead," Aftab said. "I can think of maybe 20 cases, maximum, that have gone to trial, and this is over several years. It's highly, highly unusual."

Smith, after the trial, said the case could serve as an example to potential predators and to children who surf the Internet and play around in chatrooms. The girl's mother, meanwhile, said she believes her daughter has realized how serious her Internet encounter could have been.

"I did the right" she said. "Parents need to be more aware of what their children are doing.... Parental controls aren't enough."

Kimberly O'Brien can be reached at 981-3334 or kimo@roanoke.com


The sentencing phase of this trial was reported on Friday, September 24, 1999. Click here for the follow-up article.


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