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Parents urged to monitor child's Internet use

| Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Sexual predators who crawl along the World Wide Web looking for teenage prey often translate twisted fantasies into dangerous real world liaisons.

What starts as idle chat could end as a violent encounter, sometimes just hours after first contact.

"We had a guy -- a college student -- we started talking to at 1 p.m. and he was in the McDonald's parking lot in Connellsville by 6 p.m. waiting," South Connellsville Asst. Police Chief Kevin Grippo said.

Grippo presented information about Internet safety issues Tuesday at an Everson Neighborhood Watch meeting in the Everson Fire Hall. He was part of a sting in September that netted five alleged Internet predators who traveled to the Connellsville area to meet Grippo's decoy, a 14-year-old girl.

The men came from as far away as Lansdale, Montgomery County, and as near as Connellsville Township.

"I sit and chat and I wait to get preyed upon," Grippo said. "You can't believe your eyes. They come one after the other."

Grippo is part of the Mid Mon Valley Internet Crimes Task Force. He is studying Internet crime with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The five men charged are: Yunkal Xia, 41, of Bower Hill Road, Pittsburgh; Christopher Miller, 23, of Connellsville Township; Pellegrino G. Fiore III, 30, of Greensburg; Keith L. Matthews, 44, of Uniontown; and Steve Chong Min Park, 27, of Lansdale, Montgomery County.

"We said, 'Let's do it' this one day, and out they came," Grippo said.

Each suspect waived their right to a preliminary hearing before District Judge Ronald J. Haggerty Sr. in Connellsville. They are all awaiting hearings in Fayette County Court.

"Their names get plastered all over the news because arrest reports are public records," Grippo said. "Some of them have families, kids. They're done. It's career and social suicide."

As part of the sting, Grippo also posed as a man willing to sell his 12-year-old and 5-year-old daughters. A man from Ohio responded, but became spooked and didn't pursue the deal in person and was not charged. He did, however, detail the sexual acts he planned to perform on the decoys, Grippo said.

"Sick stuff," Grippo said.

Each time a suspect mentions sex during an Internet chat with a minor, they are charged with a crime. Some are able to tally hundreds of charges during a single conversation.

"Some guys start into the sex talk right away, bang," Grippo said. "Others build trust, talk for a while. They'll ask 'How's school,' etcetera."

Grippo advised parents who believe a predator has contacted their child to stall them and call police.

"The child should say they have to take out the dog, or give some other excuse," Grippo said. "By that time, hopefully police can respond and look into the matter. If it's a predator, they'll wait.

"Parents shouldn't sweep the situation under the rug. That predator will get somebody. If not your child, then someone else's."

Parents are encouraged to monitor a child's Internet usage, either by staying close by or installing a "spyware" program.

"So many parents are glad to have their kids busy on the computer," Everson police Officer Greg Cominsky said, "because it keeps them out of their hair. But that is unacceptable."

There are no sex offenders in Everson listed on the state police Megan's Law site, but Grippo said they're out there.

"There are sexual predators in Everson," he said. "I know it. They are everywhere."

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