To catch the real predators of online entrapment and illegal searches

By Lois . . . Bonnie Burkrhardt’s 2020 book, Manufacturing Criminals, Fourth Amendment Decay in the Electronic Age is compelling for anyone interested in criminal justice matters – but it’s also a jarring read for anyone who cares about effectively reducing crime, especially sexual crime against children. Burkhardt describes the rampant interception of electronic communication between private citizens by law enforcement entities in the state of Virginia, specifically by conducting proactive electronic stings. She deconstructs the tenets of the Fourth Amendment, explaining how law enforcement violated private citizens’ Constitutional Rights.  She advocates for one of those cases, Pick v. Virginia, to be considered by the Supreme Court of the US in 2022.

Bonnie Burkhardt has over 35 years of experience legally intercepting and analyzing electronic communication signals for the Department of Defense. In her book, she explains how Mr. Pick was arrested in a sting operation illegally conducted by county police forces in Virginia and later charged and convicted for soliciting a minor electronically, a felony.

Mr. Pick’s electronic communications were intercepted without a warrant by the police, those very electronic communications in which a county police detective impersonated an imaginary underage teenager. Later, the officer hacked those private communications between Mr. Pick and said teenager. Mr. Pick was convicted of illegally soliciting a minor, a sex offense, and imprisoned. Mr. Pick was also required to register as a sex offender.

Anyone who understands the latitude with which sex offender is applied to a person knows that the label distorts, is mandated for years if not one’ s entire life, and that it negatively impacts one’s ability to earn a living, support a family, to contribute positively to community life, and to reside in a community without harassment. In sum, labels like sex offender ostracize, because they are associated with the most heinous of sexual crimes, even if that person did not touch anyone, even if the said victim did not actually exist.

Pick versus Virginia, however, does not focus on the ethics of sex offender registries or sting operations. Instead it provides evidence of the unlawful practices employed by police, leading to a multitude of misdirected convictions. As an expert in electronic communications and the laws surrounding their security, Burkhardt details those laws’ finer points.  She explains how they are misinterpreted by judges, misunderstood by most attorneys, and abused by federal, state and local officials and agencies.

Burkhardt describes how thousands of Virginia residents were unjustly prosecuted in sting operations since their major funder, the ICAC (Internet Crimes Against Children), was created in 1998. Based on her research and extensive data, she estimates that 8,100 persons have been prosecuted for manufactured crimes in Virginia alone, while their Fourth Amendment rights have been violated. Across the nation, she reports that 150,000 people have been prosecuted in similar stings.

Fortunately, in all these ICAC-funded stings, there was no real victim, although the stings have resulted in thousands of felony convictions. Adult detectives created these imaginary underage victims, after all.  One might question why any state or county agency would employ a unit of officers solely to troll for pedophiles on the internet. The short answer is not surprising: follow the money. The grant- funded ICAC stings enrich law enforcement budgets. Such stings also persist because they make law enforcement look good. The public supports them because they assume that stings help to keep children and communities safe. That is a myth. Since its inception in 1998, not one ICAC-funded sting nationwide, including all those in Virginia, ever resulted in the rescue of a real child.

Burkhardt’s book and her efforts to help those unjustly prosecuted are only first steps in challenging illegal and ineffectual stings. In the meantime, every real, living, breathing human is affected by violations of our Fourth Amendment rights. Real children do not benefit from expensive sting operations that violate those rights, including those practiced in Virginia and nationwide. Real children are not made safer. Instead, valuable citizens who could play a part in making our communities better are prevented from living productively, individual lives are ruined, families are damaged, and millions of dollars are wasted.

Putting our Fourth Amendment rights on the line is a slippery slope. No one questions the importance of keeping our communities safe and protecting our children. How we get closer to that goal is the real question. Accessing electronic records recklessly and without just cause violates everyone’s rights.

As life goes on, I hope that you and your family remain safe, that your children grow healthy and strong and go on to lead productive lives, all while your Fourth Amendment rights, and those of every U.S. citizen, remain intact.

NOTE: Please consider signing Bonnie’s Change.org petition.

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17 Thoughts to “To catch the real predators of online entrapment and illegal searches”

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  1. Tim in WI

    This article brings a whole new context clarity to the words ” to assist law enforcement. ” Assistance to LEO ” was considered in SMITH V to be the ” alternate civil purpose” of the Wetterling Acts’ creation of an electronic database of known sex offenders.

    1. Jorge

      Similar thing happened to me. Got caught up on an internet sting. Cop posing as a dad. Everything was made up. I made a bad decision in carrying on a conversation. Never met anyone. Never drove to no house. No real persons, it was all fictional. Everything was just internet chat. Here in FL, they so happy to arrest anyone that I ended up being labelled. Life is in ruin and in deep debt. We say we need to fight this but how?

  2. jim

    No one in this country will have any rights anymore but the so called elite criminals in the government. There IS a way to STOP this we need to act now.

  3. Anonymous

    The picture says it all…apparently it takes seven officers to conduct an internet sting. One to sit at the computer, and six others to watch and enjoy the show. It’s their form of reality TV, like watching COPS where they are the stars of the show. Their “made for TV” activities are nothing more than internal entertainment and public window dressing. Nothing about this makes our children safer.

  4. CherokeeJack

    When I worked in law enforcement, there was no internet. The problem I have with these stings (There are many issues) the main one is, many of these caught with a fake victim end up with more time than someone who actually had a real victim.
    And once you are on the registry, the neighbors do not care if you peed in the woods and were seen exposing yourself (unintentionally) or kidnapped and raped 10 people, to them we are all creeps that should be hung in the public square.
    There are people I have known for 25 years that just now found about about me, Due to Nextdoor app, and after 25 years of friendship have stopped talking to me. They say I should have told them 25 years ago and my reply was, my past is none of your business. Also my charges are from 31 years ago, applied retro actively.
    The more we fight these unfair laws, the more law enforcement, law makers and others come up with new ones to make our lives misrable.

  5. Mick

    Its bad in Harris County Texas this is what happened to me in 2011 still on the registry my life has never been the same

  6. David I Altman

    I’m guessing that the argument the police are using is that the people who were arrested WOULD HAVE predated against an actual minor, given the chance – you see? They WANTED to do this; therefore they did. All we did was to protect actual children.

    But I think that argument is fallacious. Would the person actually have sought out a minor online? The evidence isn’t clear. I think it’s more a crime of opportunity. They saw the “minor” there, and started the conversation, and it went bad from there.

    Had these “minors” not been there online, it’s entirely possible that the person would never have even thought about having such a conversation. Of course, we can never be sure.

    Whatever the case is, protecting children or not, there can be no excuse for the violation of Constitutional rights.

    1. LoveThe BillOfRights

      EXACTLY! They are creating a crime that might never have happened had they not provided the opportunity and in many cases pushed them into it. They don’t just take no for an answer or get out of adult chat rooms when told to do so by their target. They “groom” them for months on end and keep pushing until they get a “yes I’ll meet you”. They are the predators! They also don’t allow for changing your mind once the target sees the potential young victim or even prior to going to the meeting. You can do that for any other crime except a sex crime.

  7. Ed C

    “Since its inception in 1998, not one ICAC-funded sting nationwide, including all those in Virginia, ever resulted in the rescue of a real child.”

    That quote is a most interesting and telling statistic. I’d like to know the source.

    Veritas.

  8. Tim in WI

    Can the Author or the IACC agents be subpoenaed in an F.T.R trial? Why yes they can, given the proper context and properly situated citizen. There is a reason why the founders adopted the bill of rights and it was for times just like these.

  9. Stephen Hensley

    Here’s an idea if they want to save children. look for those that are underage that look for an older person. then go and talk to them and their parents. Entrapment in these offences have been and still are being overlooked (overruled). I know one that was arrested in his driveway saying that he was going to drive 650 miles to meet her. Intent was all they needed for a 10 year conviction. People have bad ideas and stop short of doing stupid things. Thought crimes should not be convicted under the law. If this goes further they could arrest pretty much everyone in the world.

  10. FM No Static At All

    DISCLAIMER: I’m a law-abiding citizen and am not a registrant nor have I ever been arrested. Instead, I’m someone who fears for our country over how our Constitution is being so blatantly ignored.

    One thing I worry about with this is that, if police, for whatever reason, decide they don’t like you, they can create a fake account of you on Facebook, Instagram, whatever, and then, while claiming to be you, chat with a minor and get real explicit, resulting in the REAL you getting arrested for a crime you did not commit. There is literally NO end to the possibility of abuse with these stings, IMHO.

  11. Jhon

    How sad that this proposition to the Supreme Court found so little support. I was caught in a sting operation. A professional psychologist (I was told) impersonated a girl and I followed through. I’m not excusing my actions and have always taken full responsibility for what I did. But, it bothered me that police officers bragged about their skills to caught me. It was and have been my only act of such type and I have 3 polygraphs to prove it. Yes, I think that many men that find themselves at a low point in their lives need some help and support instead of a trained police officer facilitating them to commit a crime.

    Most sex offenders who are really involved in abusing kids online know how to navigate and avoid sting operations. I’m not defending anybody and I understand that anybody abusing a kid should pay for that and get treatment. However, sting operations in many cases go too far to get a “supposed” criminal and does not discriminate from those who maybe are just at a low point in their lives as I said.

    For many men like me whose only crime was and have been to fall to a sting operation the rationale behind “they would have committed the crime anyways and we caught them before they did” is all based on hypothesis . That’s my case.

  12. Perry P.

    The Media and Courts will only continue to allow Law Enforcement Officials to continue violating Fourth Amendment Rights, because it is a ‘Popular Social Endorsement Reason’ to manufacture cases. They’ll keep on doing this, and Legislatures in every State will never make them stop. Things like this will only get worse. Vigilantes will be next to have free rein to come after and kill Us with NO Repercussions at all…and yeah, I am right about his too unfortunately!!!

  13. Xena99

    A family member was recently convicted as a sex offender here in Florida by the imaginary teenager at a hotel. In his infinite need to prove that he was right and always right that someone was catfishing him drove to the said hotel. He never got out of the vehicle because he was met by police at the vehicle. Needless to say after paying $2,500 bail, $12,000 for an attorney and after someone having concern for his welfare at the jail spoke on his behave, he was given 10 years probation, 100 hours of community service which looks to be the only thing we can find is picking up trash because of the offense, 2 years of community control to include group sex offense counseling every two weeks for an hour which is beginning to sound like something that’s a pass fail concept. The counseling costs $120 a month. We are now hearing offenders in this groups have been in counseling for more than 2 years. He quit his job for fear they would find out. His PTSD has gotten worse because of his fear that he has no rights and can be thrown in jail if he does anything wrong. He is having to stop seeing a normal counselor for his depression and PTSD because we cannot afford to pay for both. This is his 1st offense and never, ever has he shown any proclivity to messing around with any underaged girl. So tell me, what exactly is going on?

  14. funnydude

    Community assisted stings: The Kalifornia solution. Use the neighbors next door to perform warrantless surveillance using innocuous “smartphones” as they walk up and down the streets, walk their dogs, or just pretend to have a car breakdown. Or even better, use the Post office or other delivery services. Even the pizza guy!

    Seemingly innocent…except for the fact that these events always seem to happen near your house for some odd reason…

  15. No business

    This wills never stop no matter what is said or done as long as there are parents and children there will be politicians judges and cops using fear to win votes.