Lawyer targets child-porn viewers

  • Article by: JEFF STRICKLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 26, 2010 - 9:02 PM

Jeff Anderson, who has sued priests accused of abuse, now is going after a teacher charged with porn distribution and all who allegedly downloaded it.

If you have downloaded Internet porn of children, St. Paul lawyer Jeff Anderson has a warning for you: "We're gonna getcha."

The emphatic alert accompanied Anderson's filing of an unusual civil lawsuit in federal court Wednesday.

The attorney best known for suing priests accused of sexual abuse now is suing Gregg A. Larsen, a St. Paul Central High School special education teacher who was indicted last week on charges of producing, distributing and possessing child pornography. Employing a "little known and rarely used" law, Anderson sued Larsen and 100 Internet users who downloaded pornographic pictures that Larsen allegedly made of a 9-year-old neighbor girl.

"The law is called Masha's Law, and Congress passed it so we could stop the exploitation of children on the Internet," Anderson said. "The law says that any individual who produces, distributes or possesses child pornography can be held civilly liable for not less than $150,000 per download."

The law stands out from others in that it doesn't require victims to wait for a criminal case to run its course before filing a civil suit, Anderson associate Patrick Noaker explained.

"That's the unique and critical aspect of this law," he said. "You don't have to have a criminal conviction to sue. The downloader might not even face criminal charges but still can end up facing civil charges."

The suit alleges that in 2006 Larsen befriended the girl, whose mother provided day care for his children, and lured the youngster into sexually explicit conduct that he photographed and then made available for downloading.

But Anderson made it clear that he was more interested in talking about Internet porn in general than the specifics of the suit against Larsen.

"This lawsuit is really about retarding the exploitation of children on the Internet," he said.

"Pornographers use the power of the Internet to exploit children. We're going to use the power of the Internet to detect the exploiters."

Prosecuting child porn has been a priority for federal authorities over the past few years. Recently, a Minnesota criminal case made headlines over the issue of how much money should be paid to victims by those who download child porn.

Sgt. William Haider, an expert on Internet crimes for the St. Paul Police Department who appeared at the news conference via video, said that Internet users leave a trail of evidence that investigators can follow.

"It doesn't matter if you are downloading or file-sharing," he said. "We not only can identify you, but also those you trade with."

Anderson vowed to do just that.

"Law enforcement has the way to do this, and we have the will," he said. "If you download photographs that exploit children, we will track you down, we will publicly identify you to your friends and family, and we will sue you."

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392

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