Morrow’s main target is Perverted Justice’s director of operations and all-around head honcho, Xavier Von Erck. A self-described “Childless Atheist Libertarian,” Von Erck, born Phillip John Eide, was once a regular Yahoo! chatter himself when he started noticing a reoccurring problem: men preying on females of all ages in the local Portland, Oregonchat rooms. In response, he and another concerned chatter launched a Web site dedicated to cleaning up the Portland regional rooms, but success in their tactics led to the site’s migration to several other states. Today, Perverted Justice prides itself as “the largest and best anti-predator organization online.”
Though maintaining such a title and stature would seem to come with a price, the ramifications of mistaking an identity or going after the wrong person are nonexistent, according to Von Erck. Why? Because they’ve never misidentified people in the first place, he says.
Asked in an e-mail about whether individuals have ever been wrongfully accused, Von Erck says, “We have existed since the summer of 2003 and have never been sued or charged with any crime. Had we ‘misidentified’ people, we would have been sued or potentially charged with a crime. Hence, the question is strange to me that it has even been asked.”
Additionally, before teaming up Perverted Justice, Dateline NBC insists to have done ample research itself of the matter.
“We did our homework and found out that the claims weren’t true,” says Dateline producer Lynn Keller after hearing claims of the watchdog group being sued.
But the case of Julie Cison would suggest that the group has indeed seen its day in court. In April 2004, her son Tommy, 21 at the time, entered into an online conversation with a Perverted Justice decoy whom he thought was 13-year-old girl. He asked of her hobbies, where she lived, offered his cell phone number, and by the end of the conversation, was under the impression that they were going to meet and she would then “model a thong” for him. Upon arriving at a rendezvous point (a nearby mall), Tommy, like so many who came before him, was not greeted by the girl at all. Instead, a local Minnesota television station, tipped off by Perverted Justice, videotaped him in secrecy before later confronting him and running with the story.
After hearing of the sting, the Cisons went to their local police, who chose to search Tommy’s computer and hard drive, and it was determined that there was no crime committed. Tommy was exonerated of any criminal wrongdoing.
And then, according to Julie, things got ugly.
Tommy’s private information showed up all over the discussion boards of the Perverted Justice website. Friends and family of the Cisons were contacted and accused of being “pedo-enablers.” Fliers were sent to their town, and soon followed by phone harassments and death threats addressed to Tommy and his family. It got to the point, says Julie, where even her Department of Motor Vehiclesand bank information were posted on their forums for all to see.
“Now tell me what that has to do with catching a pedophile,” says Cison, a school teacher in Minnesota.