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VALLEY ROUNDUP | Woodland Hills

Man Found Guilty in Online Sex Case

April 23, 1999|CAITLIN LIU

A Woodland Hills man who made sexual advances in an Internet chat room to an undercover FBI agent posing as a 13-year-old girl was found guilty Thursday of two counts of attempting to send harmful matter to a minor.

In a case closely watched by law enforcement agencies, the jury rejected one of the key defense arguments: that online sexual banter cannot be taken seriously because of the Internet's anonymous environment.

The West Los Angeles Superior Court jury sided with the prosecution's contention that the law should treat cyberspace chats just like any other communication, and that what really mattered was defendant Aidin Ghaffari's intent: whether he believed he was asking a 13-year-old for sex.

The jury deadlocked 7 to 5 on the charge of attempted lewd acts, but brought back guilty verdicts on the other counts.

"Our office is really pleased," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Wendy Segall. "I think this is the public's opinion on just how dangerous the Internet can be."

Ghaffari's attorney, James E. Blatt, said he would appeal.

In October, Ghaffari struck up an online conversation with someone who said she was 13 and a virgin. He wrote her: "We're gonna have sex, OK?" They agreed to a rendezvous, and he got within 20 feet of the meeting spot before he was arrested.

Ghaffari, 22, faces up to three years in state prison when he is sentenced May 17, Segall said.

His arrest was the result of undercover operations by a multi-agency team that included local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

"Everybody's taking a look [at this case] to see what would happen, how the law would be interpreted and how people view the Internet," said Randy Aden, an FBI special agent and supervisor of the team.

Although many arrests have been made for crimes involving cyberspace, the defendants usually have plea bargained, prosecutors said. In the Southland, at least two similar cases have gone to trial, but both involved federal law. Ghaffari was charged under state law.

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