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Porn victim sues 14 via law named for her

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By The Philadelphia Inquirer
Monday, Aug. 26, 2013, 9:12 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA — Masha Allen was once called the Internet's “most famous little girl” — for the most horrific of reasons.

A Russian orphan, Allen was adopted at age 5 by a Plum businessman who sexually abused and exploited her online for years.

After being rescued in 2003, Allen took her story public. Congress was so moved that it passed a law in her name, giving child pornography victims the right to recoup damages from anyone caught with their images.

Now 20, Allen seeks to do just that.

In a federal class-action lawsuit filed on Friday in Philadelphia, Allen names the adoptive father, Matthew A. Mancuso, and 13 other men convicted of possessing or transmitting her photos. From each, she seeks at least $150,000, the minimum payout under Masha's Law.

“It sort of brings things full circle in that sense, for her to get the justice that she went out there and helped other people get,” said Leighton Moore, one of her lawyers.

Mancuso and the others are just the first defendants in what could grow to be an unusual suit worth more than $100 million — at least on paper.

Most class claims are brought by an aggrieved group of plaintiffs against a common defendant.

Allen's claim works in reverse, targeting as a defendant anyone who illegally accessed the child images of her, a class that could grow every day.

Winning the claim and collecting on it are different matters, which lawyers say is one reason there have been relatively few Masha's Law suits since the statute was enacted in 2006. Men convicted of possessing pornography tend to be defendants whose lives and finances are in ruins by the time their criminal cases are over.

“These are the types of people who aren't motivated to settle — or even defend — a lawsuit,” said Steven J. Kelly, a Baltimore lawyer who filed a Masha's Law claim in May against more than 80 men on behalf of two Maryland sisters, ages 7 and 9.

Allen's Atlanta-based lawyer acknowledged that collecting judgments from inmates or ex-convicts could be a challenge. Moore said the first 14 defendants in her case were named because they were professionals — including a doctor and lawyers — who appear to have assets worth targeting.

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