http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/19/national/19kids.ready.html

The New York Times
December 19, 2005
Through His Webcam, a Boy Joins a Sordid Online World
By KURT EICHENWALD

The 13-year-old boy sat in his California home, eyes fixed on a computer
screen. He had never run with the popular crowd and long ago had turned to
the Internet for the friends he craved. But on this day, Justin Berry's
fascination with cyberspace would change his life.

Weeks before, Justin had hooked up a Web camera to his computer, hoping to
use it to meet other teenagers online. Instead, he heard only from men who
chatted with him by instant message as they watched his image on the
Internet. To Justin, they seemed just like friends, ready with compliments
and always offering gifts.

Now, on an afternoon in 2000, one member of his audience sent a proposal: he
would pay Justin $50 to sit bare-chested in front of his Webcam for three
minutes. The man explained that Justin could receive the money instantly and
helped him open an account on PayPal.com, an online payment system.

"I figured, I took off my shirt at the pool for nothing," he said recently.
"So, I was kind of like, what's the difference?"

Justin removed his T-shirt. The men watching him oozed compliments.

So began the secret life of a teenager who was lured into selling images of
his body on the Internet over the course of five years. From the seduction
that began that day, this soccer-playing honor roll student was drawn into
performing in front of the Webcam - undressing, showering, masturbating and
even having sex - for an audience of more than 1,500 people who paid him,
over the years, hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Justin's dark coming-of-age story is a collateral effect of recent
technological advances. Minors, often under the online tutelage of adults,
are opening for-pay pornography sites featuring their own images sent onto
the Internet by inexpensive Webcams. And they perform from the privacy of
home, while parents are nearby, beyond their children's closed bedroom
doors.

The business has created youthful Internet pornography stars - with
nicknames like Riotboyy, Miss Honey and Gigglez - whose images are traded
online long after their sites have vanished. In this world, adolescents
announce schedules of their next masturbation for customers who pay fees for
the performance or monthly subscription charges. Eager customers can even
buy "private shows," in which teenagers sexually perform while following
real-time instructions.

A six-month investigation by The New York Times into this corner of the
Internet found that such sites had emerged largely without attracting the
attention of law enforcement or youth protection organizations. While
experts with these groups said they had witnessed a recent deluge of
illicit, self-generated Webcam images, they had not known of the evolution
of sites where minors sold images of themselves for money.

"We've been aware of the use of the Webcam and its potential use by
exploiters," said Ernest E. Allen, chief executive of the National Center
for Missing and Exploited Children, a private group. "But this is a
variation on a theme that we haven't seen. It's unbelievable."

Minors who run these sites find their anonymity amusing, joking that their
customers may be the only adults who know of their activities. It is, in the
words of one teenage site operator, the "Webcam Matrix," a reference to the
movie in which a computerized world exists without the knowledge of most of
humanity.

In this virtual universe, adults hunt for minors on legitimate sites used by
Webcam owners who post contact information in hopes of attracting friends.
If children respond to messages, adults spend time "grooming" them - with
praise, attention and gifts - before seeking to persuade them to film
themselves pornographically.

The lure is the prospect of easy money. Many teenagers solicit "donations,"
request gifts through sites like Amazon.com or negotiate payments, while a
smaller number charge monthly fees. But there are other beneficiaries,
including businesses, some witting and some unwitting, that provide services
to the sites like Web hosting and payment processing.

Not all victims profit, with some children ending up as pornographic
commodities inadvertently, even unknowingly. Adolescents have appeared naked
on their Webcams as a joke, or as presents for boyfriends or girlfriends,
only to have their images posted on for-pay pornography sites. One Web site
proclaims that it features 140,000 images of "adolescents in cute panties
exposing themselves on their teen Webcams."

Entry into this side of cyberspace is simplicity itself. Webcams cost as
little as $20, and the number of them being used has mushroomed to 15
million, according to IDC, an industry consulting group. At the same time,
instant messaging programs have become ubiquitous, and high-speed
connections, allowing for rapid image transmission, are common.

The scale of Webcam child pornography is unknown, because it is new and
extremely secretive. One online portal that advertises for-pay Webcam sites,
many of them pornographic, lists at least 585 sites created by teenagers,
internal site records show. At one computer bulletin board for adults
attracted to adolescents, a review of postings over the course of a week
revealed Webcam image postings of at least 98 minors.

The Times inquiry has already resulted in a large-scale criminal
investigation. In June, The Times located Justin Berry, then 18. In
interviews, Justin revealed the existence of a group of more than 1,500 men
who paid for his online images, as well as evidence that other identifiable
children as young as 13 were being actively exploited.

In a series of meetings, The Times persuaded Justin to abandon his business
and, to protect other children at risk, assisted him in contacting the
Justice Department. Arrests and indictments of adults he identified as
pornography producers and traffickers began in September. Investigators are
also focusing on businesses, including credit card processors that have
aided illegal sites. Anyone who has created, distributed, marketed,
possessed or paid to view such pornography is open to a criminal charge.

"The fact that we are getting so many potential targets, people who
knowingly bought into a child pornographic Web site, could lead to hundreds
of other subjects and potentially save hundreds of other kids that we are
not aware of yet," said Monique Winkis, a special agent with the Federal
Bureau of Investigation who is working the case.

Law enforcement officials also said that, with the cooperation of Justin,
they had obtained a rare guide into this secluded online world whose story
illuminates the exploitation that takes place there.

"I didn't want these people to hurt any more kids," Justin said recently of
his decision to become a federal witness. "I didn't want anyone else to live
the life I lived."

A High-Tech Transformation

Not long ago, the distribution of child pornography in America was a
smallish trade, relegated to back rooms and corners where even the
proprietors of X-rated bookstores refused to loiter.

By the mid-1980's, however, technology had transformed the business, with
pedophiles going online to communicate anonymously and post images through
rudimentary bulletin board systems. As Internet use boomed in the 1990's,
these adults honed their computer skills, finding advanced ways to meet
online and swap illegal photos; images once hard to obtain were suddenly
available with the click of a mouse.

As the decade drew to a close, according to experts and records of online
conversations, these adults began openly fantasizing of the day they would
be able to reach out to children directly, through instant messaging and
live video, to obtain the pornography they desired.

Their dream was realized with the Web camera, which transformed online
pornography the way the automobile changed transportation. At first, the
cameras, some priced at more than $100, offered little more than grainy
snapshots, "refreshed" a few times per minute. But it was not long before
easy-to-use $20 Webcams could transmit high-quality continuous color video
across the globe instantly.

By 2000, things had worked out exactly the way the pedophiles hoped. Webcams
were the rage among computer-savvy minors, creating a bountiful selection of
potential targets.

Among them was Justin Berry. That year, he was a gangly 13-year-old with
saucer eyes and brown hair that he often dyed blond. He lived with his
mother, stepfather and younger sister in Bakersfield, Calif., a midsize city
about 90 miles north of Los Angeles. Already he was so adept at the computer
that he had registered his own small Web site development business, which he
ran from the desk where he did his schoolwork.

So Justin was fascinated when a friend showed off the free Webcam he had
received for joining Earthlink, an Internet service provider. The device was
simple and elegant. As Justin remembers it, he quickly signed up, too, eager
for his own Webcam.

"I didn't really have a lot of friends," he recalled, "and I thought having
a Webcam might help me make some new ones online, maybe even meet some girls
my age."

As soon as Justin hooked the camera to his bedroom computer and loaded the
software, his picture was automatically posted on spotlife.com, an Internet
directory of Webcam users, along with his contact information. Then he
waited to hear from other teenagers.

No one Justin's age ever contacted him from that listing. But within minutes
he heard from his first online predator. That man was soon followed by
another, then another.

Justin remembers his earliest communications with these men as
nonthreatening, pleasant encounters. There were some oddities - men who
pretended to be teenage girls, only to slip up and reveal the truth later -
but Justin enjoyed his online community.

His new friends were generous. One explained how to put together a "wish
list" on Amazon.com, where Justin could ask for anything, including computer
equipment, toys, music CD's or movies. Anyone who knew his wish-list name -
Justin Camboy - could buy him a gift. Amazon delivered the presents without
revealing his address to the buyers.

The men also filled an emotional void in Justin's life. His relationship
with his father, Knute Berry, was troubled. His parents divorced when he was
young; afterward, police records show, there were instances of reported
abuse. On one occasion Mr. Berry was arrested and charged with slamming
Justin's head into a wall, causing an injury that required seven staples in
his scalp. Although Justin testified against him, Mr. Berry said the injury
was an accident and was acquitted. He declined to comment in a telephone
interview.

The emotional turmoil left Justin longing for paternal affection, family
members said. And the adult males he met online offered just that. "They
complimented me all the time," Justin said. "They told me I was smart, they
told me I was handsome."

In that, experts said, the eighth-grade boy's experience reflected the
standard methods used by predatory adults to insinuate themselves into the
lives of minors they meet online.

"In these cases, there are problems in their own lives that make them
predisposed to" manipulation by adults, Lawrence Likar, a former F.B.I.
supervisor, said of children persuaded to pose for pornography. "The
predators know that and are able to tap into these problems and offer what
appear to be solutions."

Justin's mother, Karen Page, said she sensed nothing out of the ordinary.
Her son seemed to be just a boy talented with computers who enjoyed speaking
to friends online. The Webcam, as she saw it, was just another device that
would improve her son's computer skills, and maybe even help him on his Web
site development business.

"Everything I ever heard was that children should be exposed to computers
and given every opportunity to learn from them," Ms. Page said in an
interview.

She never guessed that one of her son's first lessons after turning on his
Webcam was that adults would eagerly pay him just to disrobe a little.

The Instant Audience

It was as if the news shot around the Web. By appearing on camera
bare-chested, Justin sent an important message: here was a boy who would do
things for money.

Gradually the requests became bolder, the cash offers larger: More than $100
for Justin to pose in his underwear. Even more if the boxers came down. The
latest request was always just slightly beyond the last, so that each new
step never struck him as considerably different. How could adults be so
organized at manipulating young people with Webcams?

Unknown to Justin, they honed their persuasive skills by discussing strategy
online, sharing advice on how to induce their young targets to go further at
each stage.

Moreover, these adults are often people adept at manipulating teenagers. In
its investigation, The Times obtained the names and credit card information
for the 1,500 people who paid Justin to perform on camera, and analyzed the
backgrounds of 300 of them nationwide. A majority of the sample consisted of
doctors and lawyers, businessmen and teachers, many of whom work with
children on a daily basis.

Not long ago, adults sexually attracted to children were largely isolated
from one another. But the Internet has created a virtual community where
they can readily communicate and reinforce their feelings, experts said.
Indeed, the messages they send among themselves provide not only
self-justification, but also often blame minors with Webcam sites for
offering temptation.

"These kids are the ones being manipulative," wrote an adult who called
himself Upandc in a posting this year to a bulletin board for adults
attracted to children.

Or, as an adult who called himself DLW wrote: "Did a sexual predator MAKE
them make a site? No. Did they decide to do it for themselves? Yes."

Tempting as it may be for some in society to hold the adolescent Webcam
operators responsible, experts in the field say that is misguided, because
it fails to recognize the control that adults exercise over highly
impressionable minors.

"The world will want to blame the kids, but the reality is, they are victims
here," said Mr. Allen of the National Center for Missing and Exploited
Children.

But there is no doubt that the minors cash in on their own exploitation.
With Justin, for example, the road to cyberporn stardom was paved with cool
new equipment. When his growing legion of fans complained about the quality
of his Webcam, he put top-rated cameras and computer gear on his Amazon wish
list, and his fans rushed to buy him all of it.

A $35 Asante four-port hub, which allowed for the use of multiple cameras,
was bought by someone calling himself Wesley Taylor, Amazon receipts show.
For $45, a fan nicknamed tuckertheboy bought a Viking memory upgrade to
speed up Justin's broadcast. And then there were cameras - a $60 color
Webcam by Hawking Technologies from banjo000; a $60 Intel Deluxe USB camera
from boyking12; and a $150 Hewlett-Packard camera from eplayernine.

Justin's desk became a high-tech playhouse. To avoid suspicions, he hid the
Webcams behind his desk until nighttime. Whenever his mother asked about his
new technology and money, Justin told her they were fruits of his Web site
development business. In a way, it was true; with one fan's help, he had by
then opened his own pornographic Web site, called justinscam.com.

His mother saw little evidence of a boy in trouble. Justin's grades stayed
good - mostly A's and B's, although his school attendance declined as he
faked illness to spend time with his Webcam.

As he grew familiar with the online underground, Justin learned he was not
alone in the business. Other teenagers were doing the same things, taking
advantage of an Internet infrastructure of support that was perfectly suited
to illicit business.

As a result, while it helped to have Justin's computer skills, even minors
who fumbled with technology could operate successful pornography businesses.
Yahoo, America Online and MSN were starting to offer free instant message
services that contained embedded ability to transmit video, with no
expertise required. The programs were offered online, without parental
controls. No telltale credit card numbers or other identifying information
was necessary. In minutes, any adolescent could have a video and text system
up and running, without anyone knowing, a fact that concerns some law
enforcement officials.

There were also credit card processing services that handled payments
without requiring tax identification numbers. There were companies that
helped stream live video onto the Internet - including one in Indiana that
offered the service at no charge if the company president could watch free.
And there were sites - portals, in the Web vernacular - that took paid
advertising from teenage Webcam addresses and allowed fans to vote for their
favorites.

Teenagers, hungry for praise, compete for rankings on the portals as
desperately as contestants on TV reality shows, offering special
performances in exchange for votes. "Everyone please vote me a 10 on my cam
site," a girl nicknamed Thunderrockracin told her subscribers in 2002, "and
I will have a live sleep cam!"

In other words, she would let members watch her sleep if they boosted her up
the rankings.

Fearing the Fans

Justin began to feel he belonged to something important, a broad community
of teenagers with their own businesses. Some he knew by their real names,
others by the screen names they used for their sites - Strider, Stoner,
Kitty, Calvin, Emily, Seth and so on. But collectively, they were known by a
name now commonplace in this Internet subculture:

They call themselves "camwhores."

Justin chatted with the boys online, and sometimes persuaded the girls to
masturbate on camera while he did the same. Often, he heard himself compared
to Riotboyy, another young-looking teenager whose site had experienced as
many as 6,400 hits in a single week.

In conversations with Justin, other minors with for-pay sites admitted to
being scared of certain fans. Some adults wrote things like "It wants to
possess you." They had special wardrobe requests for the adolescents: in
jeans with a belt, without a belt, with a lacy bra, showing legs, showing
feet, wearing boxers with an erection, and others.

One 16-year-old who called himself hot boyy 23 finally found the entreaties
too much. "Hey guys," he wrote when he shut down his site, "I'm sorry, there
are just too many freaks out there for me. I need to live a more normal
life, too. I might be back someday and I might not. I'm sorry I had to ruin
all the fun."

It was not only the minors operating Webcam sites for pay who faced
frightening adults. Earlier this year, a teenage girl in Alabama posed
seminude on her Webcam in a sexually charged conversation with someone she
thought was another teenage girl. But her new confidant, it turned out, was
an adult named Julio Bardales from Napa, Calif., law enforcement officials
said. And when the girl stopped complying, she received an e-mail message
from Mr. Bardales containing a montage of her images. Across them was a
threat in red letters that the images would be revealed unless she showed a
frontal nude shot over the Webcam. Mr. Bardales was subsequently arrested.
The police said he possessed images of more under-age girls on Webcams,
including other montages with the same threat.

Justin says that he did not fully understand the dangers his fans posed, and
before he turned 14, he was first lured from the relative safety of his
home. A man he met online hosted Justin's Web site from Ann Arbor, Mich.,
and invited him there to attend a computer camp. Justin's mother allowed him
to go, thinking the camp sounded worthwhile.

Another time, the man enticed Justin to Michigan by promising to arrange for
him to have sex with a girl. Both times, Justin said, the man molested him.
Transcripts of their subsequent conversations online support the
accusations, and a video viewed by The Times shows that the man, who appears
for a short time in the recording, also taped pornography of Justin.

>From then on, Justin's personality took on a harder edge, evident in the
numerous instant messages he made available to The Times. He became an
aggressive negotiator of prices for his performances. Emboldened by a
growing contempt for his audience, he would sometimes leave their questions
unanswered for hours, just to prove to himself that they would wait for him.

"These people had no lives," Justin said. "They would never get mad."

Unnerved by menacing messages from a fan of his first site, Justin opened a
new one called jfwy.com, an online acronym that loosely translates into
"just messing with you." This time, following an idea suggested by one of
his fans, he charged subscribers $45 a month. In addition, he could command
large individual payments for private shows, sometimes $300 for an hourlong
performance.

"What's in the hour?" inquired a subscriber named Gran0Stan in one typical
exchange in 2002. "What do you do?"

"I'll do everything, if you know what I mean," Justin replied.

Gran0Stan was eager to watch, and said the price was fine. "When?" he asked.

"Tonight," Justin said. "After my mom goes to sleep."

As his obsession with the business grew, Justin became a ferocious
competitor. When another under-age site operator called Strider ranked
higher on a popular portal, Justin sent him anonymous e-mail messages,
threatening to pass along images from Strider's site to the boy's father.
The site disappeared.

"I was vicious," Justin said. "But I guess I really did Strider a favor.
Looking back, I wish someone had done that to me."

By then, fans had begun offering Justin cash to meet. Gilo Tunno, a former
Intel employee, gave him thousands of dollars to visit him in a Las Vegas
hotel, according to financial records and other documents. There, Justin
said, Mr. Tunno began a series of molestings. At least one assault was
videotaped and the recording e-mailed to Justin, who has since turned it
over to the F.B.I.

Mr. Tunno played another critical role in Justin's business, the records
show. When he was 15, Justin worried that his mother might discover what he
was doing. So he asked Mr. Tunno to sign an apartment lease for him and pay
rent. Justin promised to raise money to pay a share. "I'll whore," he
explained in a message to Mr. Tunno.

Mr. Tunno agreed, signing a lease for $410 a month for an apartment just
down the street from Justin's house. From then on, Justin would tell his
mother he was visiting friends, then head to the apartment for his next
performance. Mr. Tunno, who remains under investigation in the case, is
serving an eight-year federal sentence on an unrelated sexual abuse charge
involving a child and could not be reached for comment.

The rental symbolized a problem that Justin had not foreseen: his adult fans
would do almost anything to ensure that his performances continued. At its
worst, they would stand between him and the people in his offline life whom
they saw as a threat to his Webcam appearances.

For example, when a girlfriend of Justin's tried to convince him to shut
down his site in December 2002, a customer heaped scorn on her.

"She actually gets mad at you for buying her things with the money you make
from the cam?" messaged the customer, a man using the nickname Angelaa.
"Just try and remember, Justin, that she may not love you, but most of us in
your chat room, your friends, love you very much."

A Life Falls Apart

In early 2003, Justin's offline life began to unravel. A former classmate
found pornographic videos on the Internet from Justin's Web site, made
copies and handed them out around town, including to students at his school.
Justin was taunted and beaten.

Feeling embarrassed and unable to continue at school, Justin begged his
mother to allow him to be home-schooled through an online program. Knowing
he was having trouble with classmates, but in the dark about the reasons
why, she agreed.

Then, in February, came another traumatic event. Justin had begun speaking
with his father, hoping to repair their relationship. But that month, Mr.
Berry, who had been charged with insurance fraud related to massage clinics
he ran, disappeared without a word.

Despairing, Justin turned to his online fans. "My dad left. I guess he
doesn't love me," he wrote. "Why did I let him back in my life? Let me die,
just let me die."

His father did not disappear for long. Soon, Mr. Berry called his son from
Mazatlán, Mexico; Justin begged to join him, and his father agreed.

In Mexico, Justin freely spent his cash, leading his father to ask where the
money had come from. Justin said that he confessed the details of his
lucrative Webcam business, and that the reunion soon became a collaboration.
Justin created a new Web site, calling it mexicofriends, his most ambitious
ever. It featured Justin having live sex with prostitutes. During some of
Justin's sexual encounters, a traffic tracker on his site showed hundreds
watching. It rapidly became a wildly popular Webcam pornography site, making
Justin one of the Internet's most sought after under-age pornography stars.

For this site, Justin, then 16, used a pricing model favored by legitimate
businesses. For standard subscribers, the cost was $35, billed monthly. But
discounts were available for three-month, six-month and annual memberships.
Justin used the cash to support a growing cocaine and marijuana habit.

Money from the business, Justin said, was shared with his father, an
accusation supported by transcripts of their later instant message
conversations. In exchange, Justin told prosecutors and The Times, his
father helped procure prostitutes. One video obtained by the F.B.I. shows
Mr. Berry sitting with Justin as the camera is turned on, then making the
bed before a prostitute arrives to engage in intercourse with his teenage
son. Asked about Justin's accusations, Mr. Berry said, "Obviously, I am not
going to comment on anything."

In the fall of 2003, Justin's life took a new turn when a subscriber named
Greg Mitchel, a 36-year-old fast food restaurant manager from Dublin, Va.,
struck up an online friendship with the boy and soon asked to visit him.
Seeing a chance to generate cash, Justin agreed.

Mr. Mitchel arrived that October, and while in Mexico, molested Justin for
what would be the first of many times, according to transcripts of their
conversations and other evidence. Mr. Mitchel, who is in jail awaiting trial
on six child pornography charges stemming from this case, could not be
reached for comment.

Over the following year, Justin tried repeatedly to break free of this life.
He roamed the United States. He contemplated suicide. For a time he sought
solace in a return to his boyhood Christianity. At one point he dismantled
his site, loading it instead with Biblical teachings - and taking delight in
knowing the surprise his subscribers would experience when they logged on to
watch him have sex.

But his drug craving, and the need for money to satisfy it, was always
there. Soon, Mr. Mitchel beckoned, urging Justin to return to pornography
and offering to be his business partner. With Mr. Mitchel, records and
interviews show, Justin created a new Web site, justinsfriends.com,
featuring performances by him and other boys he helped recruit. But as
videos featuring other minors appeared on his site, Justin felt torn,
knowing that these adolescents were on the path that had hurt him so badly.

Justin was now 18, a legal adult. He had crossed the line from under-age
victim to adult perpetrator.

A Look Behind the Secrecy

In June, Justin began communicating online with someone who had never
messaged him before. The conversations involved many questions, and Justin
feared his new contact might be an F.B.I. agent. Still, when a meeting was
suggested, Justin agreed. He says part of him hoped he would be arrested,
putting an end to the life he was leading.

They met in Los Angeles, and Justin learned that the man was this reporter,
who wanted to discuss the world of Webcam pornography with him. After some
hesitation, Justin agreed. At one point, asked what he wanted to accomplish
in his life, Justin pondered for a moment and replied that he wanted to make
his mother and grandmother proud of him.

The next day, Justin began showing the inner workings of his online world.
Using a laptop computer, he signed on to the Internet and was quickly
bombarded with messages from men urging him to turn on his Webcam and strip.

One man described, without prompting, what he remembered seeing of Justin's
genitals during a show. Another asked Justin to recount the furthest
distance he had ever ejaculated. Still another offered an unsolicited
description of the sexual acts he would perform on Justin if they met.

"This guy is really a pervert," Justin said. "He kind of scares me."

As the sexual pleadings continued, Justin's hands trembled. His pale face
dampened with perspiration. For a moment he tried to seem tough, but the
protective facade did not last. He turned off the computer without a final
word to his online audience.

In the days that followed, Justin agreed in discussions with this reporter
to abandon the drugs and his pornography business. He cut himself off from
his illicit life. He destroyed his cellphone, stopped using his online
screen name and fled to a part of the country where no one would find him.

As he sobered up, Justin disclosed more of what he knew about the Webcam
world; within a week, he revealed the names and locations of children who
were being actively molested or exploited by adults with Webcam sites. After
confirming his revelations, The Times urged him to give his information to
prosecutors, and he agreed.

Justin contacted Steven M. Ryan, a former federal prosecutor and partner
with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips in Washington. Mr. Ryan had learned of
Justin's story during an interview with The Times about a related legal
question, and offered to represent him.

On July 14, Mr. Ryan contacted the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section
of the Justice Department, informing prosecutors that he had a client with
evidence that could implicate potentially hundreds of people. By then, Mr.
Ryan had learned that some of Justin's old associates, disturbed by his
disappearance, were hunting for him and had begun removing records from the
Internet. Mr. Ryan informed prosecutors of the dangers to Justin and the
potential destruction of evidence. Two weeks passed with little response.

Finally, in late July, Justin met in Washington with the F.B.I. and
prosecutors. He identified children who he believed were in the hands of
adult predators. He listed the marketers, credit card processors and others
who supported Webcam child pornography. He also described the voluminous
documentary evidence he had retained on his hard drives: financial
information, conversation transcripts with his members, and other records.
But that evidence would not be turned over, Mr. Ryan said, until Justin
received immunity.

The meeting ended, followed by weeks of silence. Word came back that
prosecutors were wrestling with Justin's dual role as a victim and a
perpetrator. Justin told associates that he was willing to plead guilty if
the government would save the children he had identified; Mr. Ryan dissuaded
him.

By September, almost 50 days had passed since the first contact with the
government, with no visible progress. Frustrated, Mr. Ryan informed
prosecutors that he would have to go elsewhere, and contacted the California
attorney general.

That proved unnecessary. Prodded by the F.B.I. and others in the Justice
Department, on Sept. 7, prosecutors informed Mr. Ryan that his client would
be granted immunity. A little more than four weeks after his 19th birthday,
Justin became a federal witness.

A Final Online Confrontation

Five days later, on the third floor of a lakeside house in Dublin, Va., Greg
Mitchel - Justin's 38-year-old business partner on his pornography Web site
- rested on his bed as he chatted online with others in his illicit
business.

Ever since Justin's disappearance weeks before, things had been tense for
Mr. Mitchel. Some in the business already suspected that Justin might be
talking to law enforcement. One associate had already declared to Mr.
Mitchel that, if Justin was revealing their secrets, he would kill the boy.

But this night, Sept. 12, the news on Mr. Mitchel's computer screen was
particularly disquieting. An associate in Tennessee sent word that the
F.B.I. had just raided a Los Angeles computer server used by an affiliated 
Webcam site. Then, to Mr. Mitchel's surprise, Justin himself appeared online 
under a new screen name and sent a greeting.

Mr. Mitchel pleaded with Justin to come out of hiding, inviting the teenager 
on an all-expense-paid trip to Las Vegas with him and a 15-year-old boy also 
involved in Webcam pornography. But Justin demurred.

"You act like you're in witness protection," Mr. Mitchel typed. "Are you?"

"Haha," Justin replied. Did Mr. Mitchel think he would be on the Internet if 
he was a federal witness? he asked. Justin changed the subject, later asking 
the whereabouts of others who lived with Mr. Mitchel, including two 
adolescents; Mr. Mitchel replied that everyone was home that night.

In a location in the Southwest, Justin glanced from his computer screen to a 
speakerphone. On the line was a team of F.B.I. agents who at that moment 
were pulling several cars into Mr. Mitchel's driveway, preparing to arrest 
him.

"The kids are in the house!" Justin shouted into the phone, answering a 
question posed by one of the agents.

As agents approached the house, Justin knew he had little time left. He 
decided to confront the man who had hurt him for so long.

"Do you even remember how many times you stuck your hand down my pants?" he 
typed.

Mr. Mitchel responded that many bad things had happened, but he wanted to 
regain Justin's trust.

"You molested me," Justin replied. "Don't apologize for what you can't 
admit."

There was no response. "Peekaboo?" Justin typed.

On the screen, a message appeared that Mr. Mitchel had signed off. The 
arrest was over.

Justin thrust his hands into the air. "Yes!" he shouted.

In the weeks since the first arrest, F.B.I. agents and prosecutors have 
focused on numerous other potential defendants. For example, Tim Richards, 
identified by Justin as a marketer and principal of justinsfriends.com, was 
arrested in Nashville last month and arraigned on child pornography charges. 
According to law enforcement officials, Mr. Richards was stopped in a moving 
van in his driveway, accompanied by a young teenage boy featured by Mr. 
Richards on his own Webcam site. Mr. Richards has pleaded not guilty.

Hundreds of thousands of computer files, including e-mail containing a vast 
array of illegal images sent among adults, have been seized from around the 
country. Information about Justin's members has been downloaded by the 
F.B.I. from Neova.net, the company that processed the credit cards; Neova 
and its owner, Aaron Brown, are targets of the investigation, according to 
court records and government officials. And Justin has begun assisting 
agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who hope to use his 
evidence to bring new charges against an imprisoned child rapist.

Justin himself has found a measure of control over his life. He revealed the 
details of his secret life to his family, telling them of all the times in 
the past that he had lied to them. He has sought counseling, kept off drugs, 
resumed his connection with his church and plans to attend college beginning 
in January.

In recent weeks, Justin returned to his mother's home in California, fearing 
that - once his story was public - he might not be able to do so easily. On 
their final day together, Justin's mother drove him to the airport. Hugging 
him as they said goodbye, she said that the son she once knew had finally 
returned.

Then, as tears welled in her eyes, Justin's mother told him that she and his 
grandmother were proud of him.



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