Patrick J. Naughton, the former Infoseek Corp. executive convicted in March of crossing state lines with intent to have sex with a minor, will not serve any jail time because he has developed computer programs to help the FBI catch sexual predators on the Internet.
In an arrangement that federal prosecutors described as unusual, if not unprecedented, Naughton earned the reduced sentence by using his technical skills during the last five months to develop at least five separate programs to help the FBI conduct the same sort of Internet sting operations that ensnared Naughton himself.
The government would not provide details on the programs. But U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie said that "their purpose is to protect children from Internet pedophiles, and it is the view of this court that they would be extremely helpful in doing so."
As a result, Naughton, who faced up to 18 months in prison, was instead sentenced to nine months of home detention, five years of probation and a $20,000 fine. The reduced sentence, which had been recommended by Assistant U.S. Atty. Patricia Donahue, was announced at a hearing in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Wednesday.
Naughton, 35, smiled broadly as the hearing concluded, and embraced his mother, Peggy, the only member of his family to attend. Afterward, Naughton said in an interview that he does not consider himself a sexual predator, even though he will now be required to register as one.
"I still maintain that I wasn't [out to solicit sex from a minor]," he said. "But evidence being what it was, this is where we ended up."
That evidence included images of child pornography found on his laptop computer, and the fact that he showed up at the Santa Monica Pier for what authorities say Naughton expected to be a rendezvous with 13-year-old girl. Naughton said he was merely engaged in a role-playing fantasy, and expected to meet an adult.
Naughton, once a Silicon Valley star, said that he has lost 95% of his multimillion-dollar net worth since his arrest, and that he will pursue work in the technology field. "There are tons of opportunities out there," he said.
Asked about the unique sentencing arrangement, Bruce Margolin, a member of Naughton's legal team, said, "I've never seen anything like it. But it's unusual to have a defendant with such special skills."
Indeed, despite the circumstances, Naughton may be one of the most talented programmers ever to work for the FBI.
In the early 1990s, Naughton was a member of the Sun Microsystems Inc. team that created the Java programming language, now an essential platform for the Web. He went on to hold top positions at Starwave Inc. and Infoseek, both of which were acquired by Walt Disney Co.
At the time of his arrest, Naughton was executive vice president of the Go Network, the centerpiece of Disney's Internet efforts.
Naughton's arrest came after a six-month sting operation in which he, using the screen name "Hotseattle," corresponded with a male FBI agent posing as a 13-year-old girl in an Internet chat room called "Dad&DaughterSex."
Naughton was arrested in Santa Monica after approaching an undercover female agent. He was charged with possession of child pornography, using the Internet to solicit from a minor, and interstate travel with intent to have sex with a minor.
Initially, Naughton contested the charges. A trial ended in December in a hung jury on two counts, but with a conviction on the pornography possession count. That conviction was tossed out days later, when an appeals court overturned a portion of the federal anti-child porn law.
Just as a second trial was to get underway, Naughton agreed to plead guilty to the interstate travel count, and the government dropped the other charges. It was during those plea negotiations that Naughton agreed to use his computer skills for the FBI. Naughton said he then met with prosecutors and FBI agents. "They just threw out problems," he said, "and I threw out solutions."
Details of the work Naughton performed are being kept under seal because, Rafeedie said, making them public could undermine their effectiveness. Naughton offered little information about the programs, except to say that are designed to help the government "be more accurate and collect better evidence."
Naughton did say they are mainly designed to assist agents after they have already identified a suspect. "I don't think anyone innocent will be swept up in this," he said.
Naughton said he has put in more than 1,000 hours in his work for the FBI and will be available to the agency through his nine months of home detention. Under the terms of his probation, he must undergo psychological counseling and avoid sex chat rooms online. He is also forbidden to "communicate" with anyone under 18, except in the presence of another adult or "in the ordinary course of business."