Tuesday, July 2, 2019
Karin Ahrman, Ocala FL's would-be vigilante discovers most folks don't care about registered persons living in the neighborhood
I should note the crazy cat lady got my earlier report about her taken down despite
SEPTEMBER 26, 2017
'A Sex Offender Moved In': One Woman's Fight to Warn Families in Her Neighborhood
In June 2017 Karin Ahrman of Ocala, Florida, received a flyer in her mailbox notifying her that a registered sex offender had moved to her neighborhood. Ahrman, who has a 13-year-old son, soon realized his home was only a few houses away—not only close to her home, but also to other homes with children as well as two schools. Ahrman asked around to see if other neighbors received the flyer and discovered it had only been distributed to a few houses close to the offender. This is when she took matters into her own hands. She talks to A&E Real Crime about her fight to inform her community about their need for vigilance against sexual offenders.
What is your neighborhood like?
It is really quiet and friendly. When we moved here, 15 years ago, it was all senior citizens. Now the houses are being sold to younger families. On this block, there’s an apartment building with a lot of kids, and these kids walk past [the offender’s] house to and from elementary school every day. The reason I put the sign out was for the kids to know to watch for him and for parents to be aware, because we only got the notice within 12 houses of him. It didn’t go very far around the neighborhood. I walked two blocks down and asked if they got it, and they didn’t.
What upset you the most?
I was shocked that [this man] can be that close to schools. That’s my main thing. And children live right next door to him! How is that possible? …[If you’re a registered sex offender in Florida, the rules are] you can’t be within 1,000 feet of a school, you can’t go to a playground, you have to stay, I think it’s 1,000 feet from a playground or anywhere where kids live or congregate, such as libraries, ice cream parlors and toy stores.
Some jurisdictions have community notification meetings where they might tell you what kind of supervision an offender is under or what restrictions he has. Did yours?
No. We had to look him up on the federal sex-offender site. He’s not just a person that has offended once. He’s identified as a predator on the site. He has multiple convictions—not accusations, convictions. He did time. He got out [of prison] then he did it again, and did more time. Now he’s down my street.
What happened after you started telling people?
When he first got here, I posted the information on my Facebook page. A friend of mine contacted me privately. She said that she has relatives with children (10 to 12 years old) who go to this house after school. The family had no idea that they were going to the house of a predator and staying there two or three hours. Without my post, they would never have known to pull the kids out of there.
When you put the sign out in your front yard, what kind of reaction did you get?
That was kind of mixed. And I had to fight my husband about it. I literally told him, ‘We will divorce over this sign. The sign will stay here.’ I was molested when I was four. I was raped when I was 12, so this is personal to me.
We have [the offender’s] picture on the sign. And I only put what was public knowledge on it. People tried getting me to take it down. They called the police. And [the police] all said that it’s perfectly legal. It’s no different from me putting up a political sign, a religious sign or whatever, because it’s my property. It was the facts that were put in my mailbox. It was public knowledge.
On the National Sex Offender Public Registry website there is a disclaimer that says, ‘Any person who uses information contained in…this Website to threaten, intimidate, or harass any individual, including registrants or family members, or who otherwise misuses this information may be subject to criminal prosecution or civil liability under federal and/or state law.’ Did anyone claim that you were harassing the guy?
Somebody did say, ‘You know, you could be charged with harassment.’ And I said, ‘How am I harassing him? I’m not going to his house. I’m not threatening him. I’m not speaking to him. I’m not interacting with him.’ He did come here to interact with me once, and I told him the facts. ‘It’s my driveway. Do not stop here. Do not call here.’
Did he say why he came to talk to you?
At first, I had 100 flyers printed up and I put them on every telephone pole between my house and all of the schools, and he was right behind me ripping them down. He stopped and asked, ‘Why are you doing this?’ And I said, ‘Because they need to know about you. Go ahead and tear the flyers down, because the next sign is going to be even bigger.’ That’s when I put my yard sign up. I bet he’s wishing he would have left up the little flyers with his picture on them. They were so small, you could barely see it. Now his face is all over.
Do you plan on doing anything else to spread the word?
There’s really not much else I can do, because then I would be charged with harassment. I did have some professionals contact me that wanted me to get a crowd together so they could do a free presentation for kids to teach them a few things [about safety] when dealing with strangers]. [Unfortunately] I couldn’t even round up a class of 30.
Did your neighbors complain that you were bringing down their property value and things like that?
I had a lot of people say that. ‘Oh, you’re just hurting the neighborhood.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m not! He is! There’s the problem in the neighborhood—not me.’
Did you look on the NSOPR website to see how many other convicted sexual offenders were within a radius of your house? [Editor’s note: You can do this in Florida, but information is not available for every state.]
I didn’t. It’s not like I want to cause a problem for everyone. I want my son to be very aware. He’s autistic on top of being [the offender’s] target age. He’s not street smart and he’s been very protected. He’s watched very closely, but not all kids are that lucky. I was one of those kids that wasn’t that lucky. I suffered [sexual abuse] twice for that. So, if I can save one child—just one—from that, then it’s worth whatever the neighborhood wants to throw at me.
Saturday, June 15, 2019
Michigan Attorney General and State police issue warnings to vigilante scumbag Zach Sweers to stop his repulsive behavior
Sweers has already been sued and hopefully soon, he'll find himself in more hot water.
Law Enforcement to Vigilantes: Leave Investigations to Law Enforcement
Contact: Kelly Rossman-McKinney (517) 335-7666
Agency: Attorney General
AG: Kelly Rossman-McKinney
(o) 517-335-7666 (c) 517-512-9342
(o) 517-335-7666 (c) 517-290-780
MSP: D/Lt. Liz Rich, MSP Cyber Section
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, June 12, 2019
Law Enforcement to Vigilantes: Leave Investigations to Law Enforcement
LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and the Michigan State Police (MSP) are sending a strong message to residents who are targeting suspected child sexual predators: vigilante activity will not be tolerated.
A vigilante’s recent behavior in the Grand Rapids area has escalated and demonstrated reckless conduct, including luring suspected online predators to a public place, recording the sometimes violent interactions, then posting the videos on social media, according to the Michigan State Police. Authorities have told the vigilante, and others like him, they aren’t able to prosecute any more cases based on information gleaned by this method.
“It is reckless and dangerous for residents to take matters of law enforcement into their own hands. Not only does it put them directly in harm’s way, it actually hinders our ability to keep our kids safe and protect them from dangerous individuals,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said. “In fact, well-meaning vigilantes not only endanger themselves, but their actions may result in important evidence being suppressed, impeding our ability to properly and effectively do our job.
“Our office vigorously prosecutes crimes against children with our partners at the Michigan State Police, which has resulted in keeping hundreds of child predators out of our communities. I strongly urge the public to leave this work to career professionals.”
Nessel added that her office has charged more than 20 individuals who have targeted Michigan’s kids since January, including a child predator ring in Coldwater. The Office of Michigan Attorney General has also successfully convicted more than 250 child predators since 2011.
The MSP Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force has highly trained, certified law enforcement investigators assigned across the state of Michigan. They work under strict guidelines put in place by the ICAC Task Force to crack down on child predators.
“Our priority is always public safety,” said D/F/Lt. James Ellis, commander of the MSP Cyber Section. “Taking matters into your own hands is dangerous and extremely harmful to a successful prosecution. Digital evidence collection, for example, has strict rules that must be followed for a case to legally move forward. Vigilantes also open themselves up to civil litigation and criminal charges when acting outside of what laws allow.”
Police want Michigan Youtuber to stop his "vigilante behavior"
By WILX News 10 | Posted: Thu 5:07 PM, Jun 13, 2019
GRAND RAPIDS, MI (WILX) -- Confronting and stopping sexual predators may seem like a good thing to do, and that's just what one West Michigan man is doing.
But according to our affiliate station in Grand Rapids, Michigan State Police want this man to stop his vigilante activity.
"Got your keys. I will break your hand," Zack Sweer, Michigan YouTuber said in one of his videos.
It's incidents like this one that make law enforcement nervous.
The video was posted weeks ago, showing a confrontation with an alleged predator at a local Target that turned physical.
In another incident, the man had a gun.
"I know you have a gun, I do too," Sweer said.
Sweers and his videos have made the news before.
When he was first reported on in 2016, his videos led to seven convictions. He was told to stop then, but clearly he still hasn't gotten the message.
The police asked him why he continued to do this and he said, "Well, I think there is a fear that they won't be prosecuted," Sweer said.
The latest video was posted yesterday and Michigan's Attorney General Dana Nessel has comment on the situation.
"It actually hinders our ability to keep our kids safe and protect them from dangerous individuals,in fact well-meaning vigilantes not only endanger themselves, but their actions may result in important evidence being suppressed," Nessel said.
Sweers still doesn't seem to believe that his actions are harmful.
"I think the police don't like competition," Sweers said.
Lawsuits against 'Anxiety War' vigilante settled
Zach Sweers sued by 2 men after posting video confrontations online
Posted: Aug 24, 2016 04:33 PM EDT
Updated: Aug 24, 2016 04:33 PM EDT
24 Hour News 8 web staff - GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) -- The two civil lawsuits against the West Michigan man who pretended to be a teen girl online to entice sexual predators have been settled.
The terms of the settlements are protected by a confidentiality agreement, however, a statement from Zach Sweers' attorney said that "no money was paid by any Defendant(s) to settle the claims."
Sweers was sued by Zachary Snoeyink and Alastaire Kolk, who featured in videos Sweers posted online in which he claimed they were sexual predators. They claimed defamation and said Sweers invaded their privacy. Sweers started a GoFundMe account to raise money to hire a lawyer.
"Sweers ... vigorously defended the claims and (was) prepared to file motions to dismiss the lawsuit," the statement from Sweer's attorney Joel Baar's statement. "The parties agree that society would be better served if the unused funds generated by Sweers' Go Fund Me Page were donated to a charity that benefits victims of sexual abuse. As such, a donation will be made to the Children's Assessment Center and the YWCA."
Attorney Ross Plont, who represents Snoeyink and Kolk, said on Wednesday that he could not comment on the agreements other than to say the matters were settled.
Sweers pretended to be a teen girl online with the goal of catching predators' attention. He would arrange meetings with men at which he claimed they expected to have sex with a teen girl. He would then confront them on camera and post the videos on his YouTube channel, Anxiety War.
Snoeyink was among seven men who were charged criminally after Sweers turned over the videos and records of his online conversations to Grand Rapids police. Snoeyink's defense attorney is trying to have the email transcripts that Sweers gave police thrown out as evidence, saying they may have been edited and aren't reliable.
Kolk was not charged.
Authorities have told Sweers to stop trying to lure online predators because it is dangerous and said they won't prosecute any more cases based on information he gives them.
All of the video confrontations have been removed from Sweers' YouTube channel.
Sunday, May 12, 2019
Facebook protects many of these Facebook groups while banning registered persons from having accounts.
ITV REPORT 11 May 2019 at 12:00am
Paedophile hunters are destroying families ‘in the name of Facebook likes’
Family lives are being obliterated in the name of “Facebook likes”, a police chief who leads the country’s response to child sexual abuse said in a blistering attack on so-called paedophile hunters.
Simon Bailey emphatically ruled out working with vigilante groups, saying they take “completely unnecessary risks” and can slow down police investigators.
Evidence from paedophile hunters is increasingly being used to prosecute offenders, but police are divided on the issue, and some fear the groups’ tactics could impede their own work.
A brawl that erupted at a shopping centre after a vigilante group of ‘paedophile hunters’ confronted a man
It marks a shift from comments reported by the BBC in September 2017 when Mr Bailey was quoted as saying that working with vigilantes was something to potentially consider.
Mr Bailey, chief constable of Norfolk Police, said: “I can’t deny they’ve led to convictions, but they’ve also led to people being blackmailed, people being subject of GBH (grievous bodily harm), the wrong people being accused, people committing suicide as a result of interventions, family lives being completely destroyed, in the name of what? Facebook likes.”
David Baker, who was confronted by the group Southampton Trap after allegedly arranging to meet a 14-year-old child in a supermarket car park, took his own life a few days later.
The 43-year-old gardener from Hampshire was arrested by police, questioned and released under investigation in October 2017.
The coroner at his inquest ruled that social media posts by the vigilante group were a “causative factor” in his suicide.
'I can't imagine viewing those images again': Sex offender tells ITV News of rehabilitation therapy
Paedophile jailed after sending explicit messages to vigilantes posing as 13-year-old girl
Online groups’ activities have split opinion in policing circles, with some chiefs warning of “significant risks” that arise from paedophile hunters’ tactics.
These can include posing as children online to lure in suspects and set up real-world encounters in order to expose them.
Some police fear that the groups’ actions could interfere with surveillance operations, while the evidence they gather may not be of a high enough standard to use for prosecution.
Former police chief Jim Gamble told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in early 2018 that masquerading as a child online should become a criminal offence to deter vigilante stings.
But Paddy Tipping, the police and crime commissioner for Nottinghamshire, told a police and crime panel in April last year that police in his area should try to form “better relationships” with vigilante groups.
Figures obtained by the BBC showed that evidence from paedophile hunters was used to charge suspects on at least 150 occasions in 2017.
Mr Bailey said a colleague had described to him how one referral from a group can take a working day to investigate, time that could have been spent identifying half a dozen offenders.
He added: “So many of these groups’ drivers are about seeking infamy through the number of hits they get, the number of likes they get, the number of people that view their live streams.
“My mission is to safeguard children. There’s a world of difference.”
The chief constable said there has never been so much commentary and awareness around child abuse, but urged vigilantes to leave it “to the experts”.
He warned: “Never before have the chances of being caught been so high.
“And for people that are doing it, they will be going to bed every night, I hope, fearing the knock on the door in the morning.”
Last updated Sat 11 May 2019
Friday, May 3, 2019
Na na na na HEY HEY HEY goodbye!
YouTube 'bans' Southampton anti-paedophile activist
8 hours ago
A self-styled paedophile hunter has said his channel has been permanently banned by YouTube.
Stephen Dure, who is also known as Stevie Trap, previously posted videos of himself confronting alleged sexual offenders in Hampshire.
He said he has been prohibited from ever owning or using a YouTube account.
The website said the channel had been terminated because of "multiple or severe violations" of policies against bullying and harassment.
Previously, YouTube said it made a "mistake" when it deleted the account in April.
Mr Dure, from Southampton, said the channel had been deleted and reinstated three times in the past.
He said: "I don't know what YouTube's problem is but I'm actually disgusted by the way they're treating me."
The campaigner said he was moving forward with plans to create his own website.
In a statement, YouTube said: "We terminate the accounts of repeat offenders."
In September, Mr Dure was jailed for 15 weeks for falsely accusing a man of grooming teenagers.
His wrongly-accused victim said he had been sacked and his home had been attacked as a result.
Mr Dure appeared in a BBC Inside Out programme in 2017, when he explained how he posed as children on the internet to "trap" sex offenders.
His YouTube and Facebook pages have shown videos of him making citizen's arrests after arranging meetings with suspects.
The TRAP Community Facebook page has more than 240,000 followers.
Friday, April 12, 2019
|James Forte Sr (left) and Jr (right), vigilante scumbags harassing a registered person.|
BTW, The PA state registry site lacks a disclaimer warning anyone that misuse of registry info is a crime.
Constitutional right or crime? Case of alleged harassment of sex offender’s family heads to court
Updated Apr 9, 2019; Posted Apr 9, 2019
By Sarah Cassi | For lehighvalleylive.com
A father and son from Freemansburg accused of harassing the family of a sex offender are headed to Northampton County Court on their respective criminal charges.
James Forte Sr. and James Forte Jr., who both live in 200 block of Juniata Street in the borough, had their preliminary hearings Tuesday in front of District Judge Nicholas Englesson.
Following testimony from the victim and a borough police officer, Englesson sent all the charges to county court, where the pair now face possible trial.
Father and son accused of harassing family of sex offender
The father allegedly printed out copies of a news article about the man, and then placed them on vehicles in the neighborhood, police said.
Defense attorney Anthony Rybak, who represented Forte Sr., said his client had been willing to plead guilty to a summary count of harassment, in exchange for the stalking charge to be dropped. After the hearing, Rybak said the father’s case will be going to trial.
Forte Jr.'s attorney, Robert Eyer, declined to comment.
Borough police said Forte Sr. printed news articles about George Hess and placed them on vehicles and in mailboxes around the neighborhood. Hess, a former Freemansburg fire chief, pleaded guilty in 1999 to indecent assault, and was sentenced to county prison.
Freemansburg Officer Martin Ramirez testified Forte was in the borough police station to deal with a citation over dog poop, when he “boasted” he had researched leaving the articles. When an officer told Forte Sr. it would create more problems, Forte Sr. yelled there was nothing the police could do and he was going to keep doing it, Ramirez said.
In a separate incident, Forte Sr. is accused of yelling at Hess’ daughter that her father was a “kiddie toucher."
Rybak argued distributing the articles was expression of free speech.
“He looked up public information of a crime,” a sexual crime against children where someone pleaded guilty, Rybak argued. “This is still the United States of America ... He has a right to let his neighbors know who lives there – someone who is a danger to children."
As for the yelling, what Forte Sr. yelled was true and he was also exercising freedom of speech, the attorney said.
“It’s rude, it can be obnoxious” but the incidents don’t rise to stalking, Rybak said.
Police said the day Forte Sr. was arrested, officers were called to the neighborhood for Forte Jr. yelling obscenities and harassing the woman and her family.
Nicole Klein testified on Tuesday that she was in her house and the windows were open when Forte Jr. yelled “You (expletive) with the wrong family," “Watch your back” and “I will (expletive) you up.”
A neighbor also provided police with a written statement that the incidents with Forte Jr. had occurred for the previous 10 days.
Eyer argued the statements were made in “transient anger” after the arrest of Forte Jr.'s father, but did not rise to a terroristic threat.
There was also no evidence that Forte Jr. knew Klein was in her house at the time, Eyer said.
The pair each remain free on bail in their cases.
Wednesday, February 20, 2019
|From Brook Reiman's FB page.|
One of my associates has recently joined the boring world of land brokerage and has been training for a few months. A couple of days ago she contacted me to notify me of this public forum for the real estate industry called “Bigger Pockets”. A discussion began on October 9th entitled “Inheriting a ‘sexually violent predator against children’ tenant” was stated by a woman buying an apartment complex in Bloomington IN. [At the time of this writing, the link to the discussion is at https://www.biggerpockets.com/forums/52/topics/624595-inheriting-a-sexually-violent-predator-against-children-tenant]
The thread had been started by a woman named Brook Rieman of Rieman Rentals, which is apparently an upstart company. Brook writes on her profile page, “My husband and currently own 3 Airbnb properties which we rehabbed. We are looking to flip and rent more properties in the near future and are currently educating ourselves and figuring out the best financing route. My husband Corey is a licensed Real Estate broker in Indiana” [https://www.biggerpockets.com/users/BrookR1]. There IS a Corey Reiman listed for Bloomington, IN on LinkedIn stating he is a “Assistant Property Manager at Monroe Lake and REALTOR at Seasons of Indiana Real Estate” [https://www.linkedin.com/in/corey-rieman-873ab46a/]. On Brook Reiman’s FB page [https://www.facebook.com/brook.rieman] is a picture with the “#IBelieveSurvivors” slogan. It is obvious she is no friend to registered persons.
Ms. Brook, the Original Poster, writes, “We had our offer accepted on our first rental property and after looking up the current tenants, we've got a convicted, registered sexually violent predator against children in this triplex. Repeat offender. Anyone dealt with this before? There are currently no children in the other two units but kids living within 20' of his door at the neighboring property. His existing lease is not up until Aug of 19 and he's been in the property 5 years. I am sick about this. Obviously I don't want to renew his lease but any options before that?” She added later in the thread, “We have little kids of our own and I would be the primary property manager so this is not something we take lightly. I’m completely disgusted and frightened by the whole situation.”
There were numerous responses to this topic, and it is important to look at every response. Nearly every response was negative and some were outright offensive. But it is important to share every post, even the redundant ones, since information posted on websites tend to disappear after a while. This gives us a glimpse into the mindset of those who refuse to rent to registered persons. [Some comments were edited for readability, as some of the comments were poorly written and full of blatant grammatical errors.]
Towards the end of the thread, Ms. Brook had claimed she found out the registrant was out of prison only 1.5 years, not 5 years, and that the person had two convictions, using the “revelations” to back out of the deal. It was for the best she backed out because it was obvious she was receiving bad advice from numerous people commenting on the thread. Remember, she was not moving in someone new, she was becoming the new landlord of an existing tenant. She had the potential to destroy the life of someone on the registry because of her personal animus against registered persons.
One bit of advice that was written in the thread was something I had experienced personally. In 2006, I had moved into a new apartment. A few years later, a new owner tried a similar tactic against me, suggested in this thread – claim the lease needs to end for maintenance reasons. I forced them to back down under threat of lawsuit. (I was bluffing, I had no attorney, but they didn’t want to take a chance.)
Other tactics that were mentioned here included offering “cash for keys” or even offering to buy out the lease. Another suggested increasing the tenant’s rent to collect more money from him. There were different opinions on when to let the tenant know the lease wasn’t going to be renewed; some suggesting telling this person now with 10 months left and a couple implied they should wait until the last minute. The animus against registered persons and the blatant discrimination posted in this thread is appalling. To top it off, some of the landlords were fully aware that registered persons have no rights and flaunt their blatant discrimination policies.
The bottom line is if you rent your property, be aware that your landlord can sell out to another real estate purchaser and your next landlord could attempt to throw you out or look for an excuse to get rid of you. This is another reason to always have a plan in place in case of any kind of upheaval in your life, be it from a natural disaster or just from some misinformed realtor buying the property you are renting; this preparation should include saving money to cover rent and deposit at a new place as well as finding out which charities offer any kind of assistance in your area. It is important to find out what rights you DO have as a tenant.
The actual comments from the thread are listed below. Many posters made similar comments. Some comments are derogatory and full of misinformation.
****IF YOU DON’T WANT TO READ THE COMMENTS STOP HERE****
Kyle Mccaw Property Manager from Keller, Texas replied, “Approach the listing agent about it. See if you can get a reduction in the contract price. If you can and you close. Off[er] the tenant $ to move so you can “fix up the unit.’”
Dennis M., Rental Property Investor from Erie, PA, wrote, “Well Perverts aren’t a protected class. Buy the property and find a way to evict him or refuse to close till owner reaches a deal to get him out of there.”
Bobby Stead Rental Property Investor from Evansville, IN, wrote, “Check the registry to see what his limitations are in your area. As a former law enforcement officer there may be something there that will allow you legally to end his lease. For instance, so far from a school, close to children that are not of his bloodline, etc.” (This alleged former law enforcement agent apparently does not realize the Indiana’s residency laws only apply to paroled registrants, according to Indiana Code §11-13-3-4.)
Jill F., Investor from Akron, Ohio wrote, “It's only ten months. He's been there 5 years. The people in the neighborhood were notified. I wouldn't ditch an otherwise good deal on a property. Just don't renew his lease when it comes due.”
Chris Szepessy from Catskill, New York, replied, “I'd assume he won't move out unless you offer him a TON of money to do so. Finding someone to rent to him is probably very difficult so he isn't going to move for $500. If the neighbors know about him, I would just ride out the lease and not renew when the time comes.”
Nathan G. from American West Realty & Management in Cody, WY, replied, “Leave him in place unless you have a justifiable reason to terminate the lease early. Notify him as soon as possible that you will not renew his lease because you are planning ‘improvements’ to the unit. Of course, the improvement is getting rid of the sex offender. If he offers to leave early, let him go without penalty and move on.”
Linda S. Investor from Richmond, VA, wrote, “He's a sex offender-- they are out there, it sounds like a low income area, so that's where they normally go. Have you checked out how many others are in the area, there might be a few more nearby. People do bad things. Some people are real jerks… Don't let emotions get involved and back out of what sounds like a great deal. I would absolutely go through with the deal, and go talk with him, and tell him you have plans to renovate his unit. Offer to refund his security deposit, and give a positive reference (assuming he's always paid on time) and throw maybe $500 more at him in a cash for keys deal. Tell him you plan to renovate his unit and won't be renewing in 10-months, --so it'd be heavily in his best interest to leave now vs. 10 months. Most people don't want to move because they know they'll have to pay the security deposit + rent, and that's a lot to low income tenants--- make it an easy transition! Don't make this a bigger deal than it is-- if you want him out, make it the best time to leave now-- and let him know you aren't renewing.”
Jim Adrian Architect from Papillion, NE, decided to play Devil’s Advocate, adding, “I’m going to take the opposite approach as others said, though I don't disagree with what they said either. Looking from the flip side, he needs a place to live. He has proven to be a non-issue to his landlord for the last 5 yrs. Your service you provide is housing and that's it. You are not buddy-buddy with this person and you shouldn't with any of your tenants. I would bet he would be willing to pay more for the place because of his past and knows how hard it is to find a place. So keep him around, raise his rent by $25 or $50 or so and put him month to month. If he gives you problems then boot him. In 10 months you will find out if his problematic or not. I would research his cases to understand what he ‘specifically’ did. He has also proven to be a long term tenant. On the flip side it may be hard to rent out the other units and you may need to disclose (not sure on this as its public knowledge) this to future tenants.”
David Cruice, Rental Property Investor from South FL and NC, replied, “Keep it simple. Buy the property; honor the existing lease, and don’t renew. Don’t discuss the ‘situation’ with anyone after you buy.”
Joe Splitrock, Investor from Sioux Falls, SD, added, “If you are investing in C or D neighborhoods, this type of thing will be common. If he was a convicted murder, violent assault offender, thief, con man, you would never even know, because there is no registry for those crimes. After 5 years, there is low risk for the next ten months. If this situation freaks you out, I assure you there is FAR WORSE ahead. I have looked tenants in the eye and told them to GTFO of my property, no notice, no cash for keys. That is how you deal with some people in some situations. They are tough and you need to be tougher. If you can't deal with this, you should re-evaluate if you should be managing your own properties or even buying them in the first place. Simple solution here is non-renewal. Tell him day one that he needs to move next August or sooner. If you re-rent the other two units, make sure to disclose his situation, so they are not surprised. If you can't stomach it, just use the inspection or financing clause to back out now. They can't make you close on the property. Worst case they take your earnest money.”
Dan Heuschele, Investor from Poway, CA, replied, “Our primary area I classify as a C to C+ area (We have some units in better areas but most of our units are in a working class area with most structures built from the 1950s to the 1980s). My background check includes a criminal records check. It is a small additional fee over the credit check fee. I think it is important, especially in my multiplexes. I want to provide the tenants a safe place realizing I cannot control everything. But I can control that the tenants have no violent crimes on their criminal report. I do not think managing in a C area necessitates dealing with criminals. Proper screening, at a minimum, reduces the chance of dealing with violent criminals. I do agree that non-renewal is the ‘simple solution’ but I would treat it as plan B. I would attempt to negotiate cash for keys. I would be careful how you "disclose the situation" but would find a way to disclose the situation to new tenants (maybe provide them a link to the sex offender registry and tell them it is important that they verify the area is safe). The disclosure is likely to result in making the other units harder to rent and may affect the rent price. So cash for keys could be a good investment as it could result in obtaining market rents versus below market rents with the disclosure. I do not know what the unit rents for but even a couple rent for the keys could be worth it.”
Dan then added in a second post in response to the “Devil’s Advocate” post, “He does need a place to live but it would not be in my multiplex. I believe I have a responsibility to provide the tenants a safe home. If I knew I had a violent sex offender as a tenant, I would feel that I have not provided the safe home to my other tenants. It is my opinion that a violent sex offender should not be in a multiplex, near schools, children clubs/sports (Y, Little League, soccer fields, etc.), etc. I think it would be best if they lived in a trailer in the middle of nowhere, but that is not likely to happen. However, they would not be living in my units. I do not care if he were willing to double his rent. Not worth it! If you accepted an additional $50/month rent for the sex offender to continue to live in your unit, how would you feel if he sexually assaulted someone? No way, there is not enough money for me to want to deal with that. I do not need the money that bad!”
Joel Florek Investor from Michigan City, IN, responded, “Aug of 19 sucks. Obviously, if you just hang on until that point you can provide them with a notice in advance that you won't be renewing the lease. I typically like to do at least 60-day notice and let them know I am trying to make the process smoother and don't want to put them in a pinch. I never want to really make someone mad and have concrete poured down the drain. Another thing you can do is once you purchase you can let them know that you will be remodeling the unit when their lease is up and if they want to move sooner you will provide them with some cash to move quicker. The concern with that is if they don't want to leave early they may become hell tenants for the next 10 months. Generally, that's why I wait until about 60 days to limit my pain and try to play the "I am being more generous than the law requires" which helps to buy a few sympathy points.”
Ned J., Investor from Manteca, CA, added, “As the new landlord I would pay to have my standard screening done on all the current tenants....I would pay the fees to do it. I'm not going to walk away from a good deal when there is a reasonable solution to the issue at hand. If any of the current tenants don't meet my criteria, then I would not renew their lease when it comes up. If the unit was vacant and I wouldn't rent to them, then I'm not going to keep them there when the lease comes up to renew. This is especially the case when it comes to violent criminals. Have horrible credit but have a great history of paying the rent, then maybe I make an exception... significant criminal record does not get a "pass"... you're gone. The fact that its 10 months would make me lean towards setting the playing field but ride it out with this guy....run the background checks etc. on ALL the current tenants....then come up with the plan on when to notify anyone that you are not renewing. Cover yourself legally by making it a uniform ‘reassessment’ of ALL your tenants and make uniform decisions based on a written criteria that you use for ALL the tenants...not just him. No way in hell am I letting this guy stay. I don't care how much $$ I may lose with some turnover or cash for keys etc, I could never live with myself if something happened. Yes they all need somewhere to live....it’s just not in one of my units....not worth it. I would however lean on the seller more to accommodate this issue in the price..... be prepared to away....”
Chris K., Attorney from Pittson, PA, warned readers, “Not an expert on this topic by any means, but I do believe some states have some restriction on how landlords can use this information (and what they need to do). For example, I'm pretty sure California has (or had) some law stating that you cannot deny rental solely based on the fact that they might be on a registered sex offenders list. Something like that. And then remember that HUD published the now infamous FHA memo saying landlords should not use criminal convictions as the only reason to reject their application. Depending on whether this person could qualify under a protected class, you may have to be slightly careful.”
Karen Margrave (Moderator for the forums) from Bend OR & Redding, CA, added the following misinformed statements, “If there are children living within 20' of where he is, he's probably in violation of parole, or other laws. Ask the local authorities how you can find out if he's on parole, and what the laws and regulations regarding registering as a sexual predator are. I would without question evict him. Money isn't everything, and the community has a responsibility to protect children. Being a violent, sexual predator, isn't like stealing from the local store. The justifiable reason to get rid of him is HE'S A VIOLENT SEXUAL PREDATOR THAT VIOLATES CHILDREN! Personally, I refused to lease office space to a counseling office that’s clients were violent sexual predators. I would never risk the chance of making it easy for someone like that to prey on another. There were young women working in other offices that could be working late at night. You aren't allowed to inform others in the area of the fact that the counselor’s clients were sexual predators so that they could be informed, and on guard, as it's against the law. It's important to understand, there is no cure for sexual deviants. Counselors believe that it is "victimless crime”, nevermind a child cannot defend themselves. It's not a disease; it's a CRIME that preys on the most vulnerable. So if you wouldn't allow a known killer in your unit, why would you even consider a sexual predator?” [https://www.facebook.com/karen.margrave]
“John Clark” writes, “Go to a lawyer and find out what a landlord's liability is to third parties should a known, repeat, sex offender tenant commit another offense on the landlord's property. That in turn may give you an out for the purchase of the property. (If, for example, it was peddled to you as having no restrictions on leasing, but now you can't rent to families with kids because they'd be too close to Chester the Molester). I dunno. Talk to the lawyers.”
Vinay H. from Cambridge, MA wrote possibly the only sensible response, adding, “Before we get pitchforks and lynch mobs, possibly there is a need to talk to the local police to find out about the situation. Maybe he committed the crime 20 years ago and is now reformed. Find out the details from him and from the police. People deserve a second chance, and that's a reason why he was not given the death penalty. If we all chase him out and make him jobless and homeless, is this a better situation for society? Obviously this is a major headache, but if you can't stomach it, better back out of the deal. Even if he turns out to be the best tenant ever, his presence will limit your potential tenants for the other units. I think there are 2 options - either get more info and develop a strategy or back out of deal.”
Cara Lonsdale, Realtor and Investor from Scottsdale, AZ writes, “There are rules established that he has to follow. I would start by looking those up. Any violations should be reported. Is your unit near a school? There is most likely a rule about how close he can live to a school. Find out what the rule is about other units having children. Is he grandfathered in if he is there first? Also, establish your policies for Tenants. Do you take felons? If not, then come renewal time, it is a simple decline based on your rental policies. Offering him money to move may work, but he may not take it if his options are limited. The goal is to remain respectful and not harass him while you are trying to manage his tenancy. While he is not a protected class as a convicted predator, he still has the right to peaceful habitation.”
John Clark wrote a disgusting response to Vinay’s post, adding, “You missed the words "repeat offender." If he offended 20 years ago and is still on the list, that tells me the crimeS were heinous. Check out landlord's liability and whether an undisclosed defect/risk in the purchase contract, or tenant estoppel letters, or whatever, let the buyer out. What part of c-o-n-s-u-l-t t-w-o l-a-w-y-e-r-s, one each in criminal/tort law and the other in property law, does anyone on this forum not understand?” He believes that if a person committed an offense 20 years ago, he must be a repeat offender. This is proof people misunderstand the registry information.
Ali Boone Business Owner & Investor from Venice Beach, CA, writes a great post, adding, “I might be kind of naively biased on this because I volunteer in prisons regularly, mostly with men, and I've worked with a ton of criminals, including those of sex crimes. Personally, I'd be more concerned with how he is as a tenant. Does he pay on time every month? Is he pleasant to deal with? Other than him being a sex offender, what are his other traits as a tenant? If he's been in there for 5 years, he obviously hasn't recommitted recently. And if he does go to jail, how does that work if he's no longer present to pay rent? (I actually don't know that answer). I think the focus needs to be on the facts and the logistics, not on personal opinion about him or his crime(s). So, what are the facts and logistics about this? What are the specific risks in having him there? If people's posts about getting him out are just because they think he's a pervert or a bad human being, that's just nauseating. I don't condone his crimes, but if he's okay and fully functioning right now and paying rent and maybe even a nice guy, then kicking him out would just be ridiculous. Unless there's some logistical problem(s) that someone can specify.”
Thomas S. added, “As others have noted, he has been a tenant for 5 years. Leave him alone and give notice prior to the end of his lease that you will not be renewing. It isn't a problem until it's a problem and even then it is not your problem since you did not initially rent to him.”
David Hallner of 3 N Bonita Dr, Madisonville, LA, 70447-9731 (504) 442-3129, replied, “In my opinion a person that rapes or molests an innocent child, should be living in a place 6 feet under. Some things are way more important than money, and this is one. I would either get out of the deal or might just go through with the deal only cause I would make it my personal mission to get rid of this guy.
Patrick S. from San Antonio, TX, replied, “To me, it depends on the location and the type of place you have. I think it's ok to think that it's an awful heinous crime, and still rent to them if it's an appropriate place (no kids, schools, parks, etc.) Kicking him out and having him move a block away doesn't necessarily make anyone safer, or mean that you do or don't care about kids. That said, I'm sure these folks find it extremely difficult to find places to rent, so he might be a good grateful tenant if you let him stay.”
Scott Baker replied, “People are being a bit hysterical about this, and if it's an otherwise good deal it's not worth throwing away over. If your plan is to upgrade the triplex and get a better caliber of tenant in there, well, a registered sex offender might scare folks away if they hear about it. I agree with the idea of letting him know sooner rather than later he's going to be out at the end of his lease for ‘renovations’, and if he needs to break the lease to find new housing, well, you're such nice people you'd let him do it.”
Michael Biggs Investor from Princeton, TX, replied, “I know I am old, bitter, and jaded. BUT I really do not understand the basic premise that cause people to think small distant requirements make people safe from people who have committed crimes. First. He has legs. He can walk. Second. He probably has a car. He can drive. Of course, I do not even believe in sex offender registries because we do not have murderer registries or robber registries. For those that have assumed he is violating some kind of rule or law because he lives there, it is extremely unlikely. People should also be aware convicted felons live in all kinds of neighborhoods.
Daniel R. from Chattanooga, TN, replied, “I can actually tell you that statistical facts show sex offenders to be one of the lowest percentages of recidivists of any crime. My uncle has worked in the court systems and in general as a psychologist with sex offenders and people with sexually deviant behaviors most of his career (30+ years). He is very highly regarded in this field. Now, obviously, this person DID re-offend and it was a violent act as well, and that is sad, awful, etc. 100%. I truly hope the victim is alright. But, they do not wish to stay in prison because they "know" they will do it again when they get out. Prison is the worst place for a sex offender. Also, most sex offenders are one time offenders with no actual sexual attraction to children in general and these days a large number of sex offenders did not even offend a minor. The more they are alienated from society the more likely they are to re-offend again because anyone that is alienated does not fare well in the long run and their "demons" have a much higher chance of showing their faces again. I know this part of my response will be pretty unpopular but I just wanted to put it out there. But, on the business end of things, I can 100% understand not renting to the person because it makes your multi-plex much less attractive to potential/current tenants in the other units. So I do understand now wanting them to be a tenant and also the fear for the OP in regards to having her daughter with her when performing repairs. I just wanted to make sure to correct that specific statement. Sadly, that professor was grossly inaccurate in their statement.”
Monday, February 11, 2019
|Phill Hoban of Predator Exposure|
HUNTER HUNTED Paedophile hunter who starred in BBC documentary arrested by gun cops ‘over vigilante raid’
Officers swooped on Phill Hoban, 43, and other members of paedo hunters, Predator Exposure
By Paul Sims and Sun Staff
6th February 2019, 4:11 pmUpdated: 6th February 2019, 4:11 pm
A PAEDOPHILE hunter who appeared on a BBC documentary spoke of his fury yesterday after gun cops arrested him in a dawn raid.
Officers swooped on Phill Hoban, 43, and other members of Predator Exposure over claims of false imprisonment, assault and public order offences.
It is alleged they acted unlawfully when they detained two suspected paedos after separate online stings in August and January.
Armed police dragged members of the Leeds-based group from their homes before quizzing them for six hours on Monday.
Dad-of-five Phill, 43, who featured last month on BBC3 documentary ‘Paedophile Hunters: The Rise Of The Vigilantes’, slammed the arrests.
He said the move was designed to shut the group down - despite it being responsible for bringing more than 70 child sex offenders to justice.
Fuming Phill said: "I was immediately grabbed straight away and arrested and handcuffed behind my back in front of my family, they wouldn’t even let me put my bike away.
"There were armed police and police with tasers to arrest me on historic assault and false imprisonment allegations. It was heavy handed."
He said officers seized his mobile phone, his kids’ iPads, clothing, including his coat and trainers and took him to the cells at Wakefield Police Station.
The police are not interested in justice. Our arrests are a tactic to try and make us stop exposing paedophiles.
He and his team have since been released on bail.
Predator Exposure record and live stream all their vigilante stings, in which they confront a suspected paedophile engaging in online sex chat with a decoy.
The group make a citizens arrest and phone the police to arrest and take the suspects away.
Phill claims the two incidents he was questioned about and followed the same method all their 70 plus stings have done.
He added: "The police are not interested in justice. Our arrests are a tactic to try and make us stop exposing paedophiles.
"I was handcuffed behind my back by armed police. I would have attended a police station voluntarily and they know that.
"The have arrested us now because we are the biggest group in the country with the biggest following and they want to get the message out to other groups to stop.
"But the police are not doing enough to catch the paedophiles themselves.
"And yet they have enough resources to send eight police officers to five homes to arrest innocent members of the public."
Phill and his colleagues have been bailed to Friday, when they may learn whether they will be charged.
A defiant a Phill said: "If they take us to court, they take us to court, but there will be uproar because we have many supporters and we have taken 70 odd paedophiles off the streets and protected hundreds of kids."
The police spokeswoman said: "The arrests were made in relation to alleged offences in the Wakefield area on August 11, 2018 and Leeds on January 13, 2019 in which members of the public were allegedly detained.
"Three men and two women were arrested. They have since all been released on bail. Enquiries are ongoing."
The paedophile hunting group have been responsible for bringing a number of offenders to justice through online stings in the past year.
Saturday, February 2, 2019
PA police say they don't condone vigilante groups like S. Central PA Child Predator Exposure, but they aren't being arrested
If past evidence from the numerous articles I've posted is any indication, this group is either full of convicted criminals or they are distributing pictures of a questionable nature themselves.
Vigilante Facebook group targets sex offenders; local man facing charges
By: Kendra Nichols
Posted: Jan 28, 2019 07:03 PM EST
Updated: Jan 29, 2019 09:26 AM EST
MT. HOLLY SPRINGS, Pa. (WHTM) - Brandi Lehrian is on a mission to expose child sexual predators.
"We have exposed about 31 guys," she said.
Brandi is the founder of the South Central Child Predator Exposure group on Facebook. Volunteers with the group pose as underage girls on social media apps like Whisper, Kik and Facebook in hopes of catching child predators. They wait for the person to contact them first.
"Once they become sexual and they agree to meet, we meet them and expose them," said Brandi.
The group will then post the video to its page and to a YouTube channel to publicly shame the men.
Keith Linzey, 43, was recently featured on the group's website. He went to a gas station thinking he was meeting a 15-year-old girl. Instead, Brandi and another volunteer were there to meet him with their cell phone camera rolling.
"My goal is to bring awareness to everybody, to know who is out there and what they are doing and try to get them arrested and get them off the streets," said Brandi.
Mount Holly Springs police received an anonymous tip about the video featuring Linzey.
"At that point, we just went and knocked on the door just to see if he would talk to us about the anonymous tips. He freely admits the whole thing," said Andrew Wolfe, a detective for the Mt. Holly Springs Police Department.
Police could not charge Linzey with attempting to meet a 15-year-old girl since there was no real victim and it was not a sting by law enforcement, but while Wolfe was at the home, he discovered child pornography on Linzey's cell phone.
"He had some very deep sexual demons in his mind. It is not OK. He cannot be on the street," said Wolfe.
While they are glad he is off the street, police don't necessarily support what the group is doing.
"I would say that they are treading a very thin line. They could get shot," said Wolfe.
"They have said to us that we are vigilantes. They are afraid we are going to get hurt, which I understand, but to me, kids' safety is more important than my own," said Lehrian
Brandi says she's not done exposing child predators.
"I have at least 40 people in my phone right now," she said.
Linzey has been charged with one count of possession of child pornography. Police say it is an ongoing investigation and more charges are expected.
Thursday, January 3, 2019
|Shane Erdmann, hiding his face because like most vigilantes, he is a common criminal|
It shouln't surprise anyone Shane Erdmann is a convicted criminal, like so many other vigilantes featured here over the years.
He lures alleged child predators and shames them on Facebook. Now one of his targets is dead.
Jan. 2, 2019 / 1:22 PM CST
By Brandy Zadrozny
On a cool evening in October, Alain Malcolm, 20, walked into a vacant two-story colonial house in Bristol, Connecticut. Two members of a local internet vigilante group — who regularly try to expose and shame alleged child predators they entice online — were waiting for him.
Malcolm was tall and handsome. The oldest son of Jamaican immigrants, he wholly subscribed to the idea of the American dream. In high school, Malcolm was vice president of the Future Business Leaders of America club, assistant captain of the tennis and swim teams and a member of the student council and Model United Nations. He started a social marketing business at 15.
After graduating in 2016, Malcolm filled his Instagram and Facebook feeds with photos of New York high-rises, bathroom selfies in three-piece suits and links to news articles in which he was featured. He went to community college while working as a junior buyer for a local circuit-board manufacturer and was the subject of a Connecticut Public Television series that profiled recent high school graduates. Earlier this year, he was named one of Litchfield County’s 40 Leaders Under 40.
Malcolm was also gay, which was difficult growing up in a religious family in Torrington, a sleepy former mill town in the northwest part of the state, friends said.
“It’s not easy to be black, Jamaican, a Jehovah’s Witness and gay in Torrington, Connecticut,” said Allie Morrissey, a friend of Malcolm’s.
Starting in high school, Malcolm used apps like Tinder and Grindr to meet men from around the state, friends said. On that October night, he had come to Bristol to meet someone younger, purportedly a 14-year-old boy “going on 15,” according to a video posted by the digital vigilante group known as POPSquad.
When Malcolm arrived, he found that there was no boy — there was only POPSquad. For the 126th time in two years, the group — an acronym for Prey on Predators — had catfished a man on the internet, posing as an underage teen on hookup apps and luring him into a meetup, this time at an empty home whose owner allows it to be used for the group’s stings, according to POPSquad.
Like the others before him, Malcolm was greeted by Shane Erdmann, 31, better known by his alias “Incognito,” who questioned and berated Malcolm as the camera rolled. (The entire encounter was posted on Facebook the next day, though it was later removed. NBC News spoke to three people who watched it — two friends of Malcolm’s and one POPSquad fan — and described its contents.)
Confronting Malcolm with copies of the alleged sexual online messages sent to a POPSquad member, Erdmann asked: Why had Malcolm come? What disgusting things was he planning to do? What would his family think?
“I don’t have anything to live for,” Malcolm said as he stared at the ground.
Although his targets may initially believe otherwise, Erdmann isn’t with the police, and Malcolm wasn’t required to talk with POPSquad. As Malcolm walked to his car, Erdmann followed to film his license plate, reading the numbers aloud, “for the camera,” Erdmann said.
“Your family is going to see this. How do you feel?” Erdmann asked, according to people who saw the video.
Malcolm honked twice as he sped away, driving 30 minutes back home to his parents’ house in Torrington, where he hanged himself.
‘A MOB JUSTICE VIGILANTE MENTALITY’
POPSquad is one of dozens of similar online groups across the country unified by what they say is a mission to expose and shame people they allege are or could become sexual predators, according to an NBC News review of these groups on Facebook. The idea isn’t new — the NBC News “Dateline” show mined the same territory in its special series, “To Catch a Predator,” from 2004 to 2007. Ratings soared, and the network described it as a public service, but in three years the series was over, after drawing negative news coverage, advertiser wariness and a lawsuit from the family of a target who killed himself, which was later settled, with both parties saying only that it had “been amicably resolved."
There have been several copycats of “To Catch a Predator,” including Ontario construction worker Justin Payne, who ensnared dozens of men by 2015. In British Columbia, Ryan LaForge made a name (and a criminal record, pleading guilty to two counts of assault) with his group, Creep Catchers, and in Michigan, Zach Sweers caught potential predators under the name “Anxiety War” until 2016, when he settled two civil lawsuits from targets.
Now, thanks in part to social media, these groups have multiplied rapidly in recent months, propelled by a rabid and growing fanbase, according to law enforcement officials and Facebook data.
The NBC News review found more than 30 similar operations on Facebook across 23 states. Most have formed in the last year, finding an audience and influence on Facebook, where hundreds of thousands of users like and follow them, watch videos of their stings and support their efforts with donations and the purchase of branded merchandise.
Truckers Against Predators, started in June by a St. Louis truck driver, Anthony Greene, has quickly become the genre’s most popular group, with 92,000 Facebook followers, according to NBC News’ review of the groups. Greene, who uses a team of decoys to fish for potential predators to berate in gas station parking lots, said he was inspired by Shane Coyle, who runs Facebook’s second-most-popular predator hunter group, Prank Call Mafia. Coyle, a former MTV reality show contestant with a criminal record unrelated to the group, disguises his voice like a minor to lure men to Florida meetups.
Sometimes, though not often, a sting by these groups ends in an arrest of the potential predator by local police. In the two years since Erdmann founded POPSquad, the group has recorded over 131 stings and claims to have been involved in 14 arrests, all of which NBC News has confirmed, though not all of the men were charged with crimes related to POPSquad’s videos.
Nonetheless, many law enforcement officers object to the groups and consider them dangerous vigilantes.
Even when police don’t get involved, the predator hunters and their loyal followers are ready to exact their own form of justice on social media, making sure that the alleged predator’s video is seen by his family, friends and employers.
Frank Norris, 32, a POPSquad follower from Cheshire, Connecticut, is one self-appointed enforcer.
“I’ve called state police, I’ve called family members and I say, ‘This is your family member,’ so they can distance themselves,” Norris said of the men caught on POPSquad’s videos. “I think it’s disgusting. I think it’s a huge problem. That's why I’m active. You want to shame these people.”
These online hunters are tapping into a hunger for vengeance, said Steven Kohm, a cultural criminologist at the University of Winnipeg.
“Criminal justice used to be emotional and participatory,” Kohm said. “Over the last 100 years, it’s become mostly hidden and dominated by professionals. People are yearning to reconnect with the punitive emotional core of the justice system. These groups focusing on the pedophile, a universally reviled category, helps them connect with the lost aspect of the justice system.”
Kohm linked the hunters to the popularity of internet sleuthing, at a time of deep mistrust in authority. It appears to be the same impulse that fueled Qanon, "pizzagate" and other popular conspiracy theories obsessively “investigated” by online groups.
“It’s a mob-justice vigilante mentality,” Kohm said.
Facebook is a key piece of the groups’ strategy.
“These kind of stories, visceral and violent, are more likely to be shared on Facebook,” said Mitali Thakor, an assistant professor at Wesleyan University and expert on digital vigilantism and online child exploitation.
Facebook’s focus on local stories and groups could also amplify the predator hunters’ content, Thakor said.
“You’re more likely to see these kind of local stories because Facebook suggests content based on location, and because it’s hyper-localized it seems real and relevant, like this content is from your community newspaper.”
Facebook told NBC News that it is aware of these groups and does not ban them outright, although much of what they do appears to violate Facebook’s rules against shaming or cyberbullying.
“We want people to use Facebook and our products to raise awareness about threats to public safety, including those who may pose harm to children,” a company spokesperson said in a statement to NBC News. “However, we do not want people to use Facebook to facilitate vigilante violence. That’s why we have policies against threatening real-world harm and to protect people’s privacy if they are being publicly shamed. We will remove content that violates these policies when it is reported.”
Facebook does not allow posts that “reveal personally identifiable information" or amount to cyberbullying, the spokesperson said. The company reviews posts when they are flagged.
After an inquiry from NBC News, Facebook temporarily suspended several predator hunter accounts, removed some individual posts and deleted at least one group entirely. Some groups voluntarily removed their own pages to escape what they saw as a purge. POPSquad appeared to be unaffected.
Anthony Greene of Truckers Against Predators was among the users disciplined by Facebook. In a Facebook Live video, Greene told his followers he was locked out of his account, in "Facebook jail" for the next 30 days.
"Things will be all right,” Greene said. “We're 90,000 strong, guys. There's nothing anybody can do to stop us.”
A VICTIM OF POPSQUAD
On Oct. 20, a day after filming Malcolm’s panicked response to the sting, POPSquad labeled him No. 126 and posted the video on Facebook, to 17,000 followers.
It didn’t take long for the POPSquad video to reach Torrington. At the same time, news of Malcolm’s death the previous evening was making its way through town and into the comments on POPSquad’s Facebook page. Even after locals commented that Malcolm had died and linked to his obituary, many POPSquad fans responded with glee.
“The comments were awful,” said Morrissey, 20, a high school friend of Malcolm’s who saw the video online. “Terrible things like: ‘We’re so happy he killed himself. Thank you God for taking another disgusting person off the Earth.’”
“It wasn’t even people our age,” added Marielle Franco, 20, another friend. “It was like people my mom’s age.”
POPSquad took down the video after less than 24 hours and replaced it with a post in which the group vowed to continue its work “without hesitation.”
“It will be natural to feel sad if something happens to a predator, but remember. He is not the innocent,” the post said. “He is not a victim. He tried to create a victim. This catch was no different than all the others before it and his actions are his and his alone.”
Erdmann declined to comment on the video of Malcolm and responded to NBC News’ follow-up questions with a threat to sue.
Malcolm’s family did not respond to requests for comment.
There is an open investigation into Malcolm’s death, according to Torrington Police Department Lt. Bart Barone.
“We’re still trying to get in touch with POPSquad and see what the whole thing was about,” Barone said. “It really was a sad situation. He was a young kid.”
Erdmann, who is thin and covered in tattoos, runs POPSquad from an abandoned factory in Bristol, Connecticut. He and four volunteer team members work in an office lit by black lights and security monitors to catfish potential predators, edit videos and maintain the POPSquad website.
A former self-described “hustler,” and staple of the early-aughts Connecticut rap scene, Erdmann later hyped WakeUpNow, a Utah-based multilevel marketing company that targeted the hip-hop community. He is currently on probation for an unrelated 2016 felony drug conviction and now makes money from selling original music along with POPSquad hats and sweatshirts, and soliciting donations from his followers.
“I've been an entrepreneur for a long time,” Erdmann said. "I’m using the same entrepreneur skill sets that I was when I got into trouble, but not the same products. I create the product now."
While Erdmann wouldn’t talk about Malcolm on the record, he was eager to rattle off the names of POPSquad targets and their number on his list.
Among his highest profile catches that ended in related arrests and guilty pleas: Scott Backer, No. 5, a former associate dean of students at Wesleyan who pleaded guilty to enticing a minor and was sentenced to probation after Erdmann confronted him in a Walmart girls section; James Batt, No. 33, a high school special education teacher whom Erdmann filmed at a Dunkin’ Donuts and who pleaded guilty to child pornography possession; Cole Sutton, No. 46, a school photographer who pleaded guilty to risk of injury to a minor and is serving a five-year suspended sentence; and Keith Dubin, No. 60, who pleaded guilty to risk of injury to a minor and possession of child pornography and is serving an 18-month sentence.
But POPSquad's very involvement may hinder prosecution.
"It was one of the reasons why they gave my client some leniency,” Backer’s attorney, Anthony Spinella, said of the state's attorney in Hartford who prosecuted the case, who declined to comment. “Putting these vigilantes on the stand would have been be a nightmare.”
Lawyers for the other men did not respond to requests for comment.
These operations have been the subject of dozens of local news stories that praise POPSquad’s work. Although Erdmann’s identity is known to the police, he operates under his “Incognito” alias and refuses to be photographed without a mask. Local television and print reporters cover his exploits without revealing his identity.
In Bristol, where most of POPSquad’s stings are conducted, the police and local government walk a fine line, using POPSquad’s work without officially supporting his tactics.
“As a community, we understand that parents and families are hypersensitive to predatory behaviors and keeping their kids safe,” Bristol Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu said in a statement. “Our Police Department has an active Criminal Investigation Unit that has many active cases of their own, and also have received leads from POPSquad which we pursue as well."
Erdmann said he feels Bristol police don’t appreciate his talent or his results.
“Nobody out here does it. And the ones who are doing it, aren’t doing it right. Even the cops,” Erdmann said. “In this field, sex crimes, no one can hold a candle to me. And that’s a problem.”
Referring to Erdmann, Bristol Police Lt. Richard Guerrera told NBC News: “We don’t have a working relationship with him. We don’t advise him, he doesn’t call us, he does his thing and if a report is made, we investigate it.”
Things don’t always go smoothly. In August 2017, a man who allegedly came to a Planet Fitness parking lot at midnight to meet a 14-year-old girl found Erdmann instead. When the target, Jordan Malmstrom, 33, realized Erdmann was filming, he attacked, according to a police report of the incident. Police wrote that Malmstrom punched Erdmann repeatedly and stole his camera. As Malmstrom sped away, his car clipped Erdmann’s leg.
Malmstrom was arrested in February and charged with assault, larceny and enticing a minor. He pleaded not guilty. At a December hearing, a prosecutor told the judge the state was no longer willing to pursue the case, and the charges were dropped. Malmstrom’s lawyer, David Kamins, told NBC News that the state noted in remarks to the judge that Erdmann had been uncooperative. The state's attorney declined to comment on the case.
‘THERE’S GOING TO BE SOMEONE WHO GETS HURT’
Beyond Bristol, groups like POPSquad have met resistance from law enforcement agencies concerned that untrained civilians — many with criminal records of their own, like Erdmann — are confronting targets in stings that may threaten public safety and have unintended consequences.
"It’s detrimental to what we're trying to do,” said David Frattare, Ohio’s director of state investigations for the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, a national group of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies that investigate online child sexual exploitation. “We spend an inordinate amount of effort to train officers to conduct these investigations in a secure and safe way that will maintain the evidence and end in prosecution."
In the past six months, Frattare said he has seen a "resurgence" in online child-predator hunting groups not seen since the early 2000s. These online vigilantes, who often show up in police-style gear and use language that gives the false impression that they are members of law enforcement, have been a topic of conversation at meetings with the other 60 commanders who lead the national program.
"They're seeing these groups spring up in their areas,” said Frattare, who advises local law enforcement to discourage the vigilantes. “We've tried to let them know some of the dangers they're facing by going out and putting themselves in harm’s way. They aren't trained."
"Sooner or later there's going to be someone who gets hurt," Frattare added.
Erdmann says he’s not concerned about his own safety, or the safety of the people he targets. This month, his probation on the drug conviction ends and he says he’ll likely leave Connecticut for bigger things: international stings, seminars across the country, and if all goes well, a POPSquad television show. He signed a contract earlier this year with a reality show development agency, Smartmonkey Productions, but no one’s bitten yet.
For now, his audience is online.
“It’s a cult following,” Erdmann said. “There’s two types of people who don’t like POPSquad: We either caught you or you know somebody that we caught.”
Brandy Zadrozny is an investigative reporter for NBC News.