Man gets 2 1/2-month term in child Internet sex case

German businessman was caught in FBI sting, will be deported

June 05, 1999|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

Despite a prosecutor's protest that the sentence was unjustifiably light, a federal judge ordered yesterday that a German businessman be released after serving 2 1/2 months for crossing state lines to have sex with a minor in Maryland.

Bodo Erwin Mueller, 33, was facing a possible 12 to 18 months under federal sentencing guidelines. He pleaded guilty last month in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to using the Internet to arrange a liaison with a 14-year-old boy.

The "boy" was an undercover federal agent working online as part of "Innocent Images," the FBI's Internet sting operation that investigates sex crimes against children.

Judge William M. Nickerson sentenced Mueller to the time he has served -- plus one week -- since his arrest March 26. The judge noted Mueller's willingness to be deported and the fact he is a foreigner, which Mueller's lawyer argued would make a U.S. prison term more severe for him because of cultural differences.

Prosecutors, who had sought more time for Mueller, said the sentence was excessively lenient.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew C. White told Nickerson at the hearing that the sentence wrongly departed from federal guidelines and noted that Mueller's conversations with the undercover agent indicated he was intent on having sex with a child.

"This is not appropriate, your honor," White said, referring to the sentence Nickerson imposed. White said Innocent Images sting operations are at the forefront of the government's fight to go after sex offenders online and that the cases should be taken more seriously in the courts.

"Yes, it is a sting operation, but there is also real abuse out there, and real people are getting hurt," White said. "It should not be held against the FBI that they are doing these sting operations. They should be applauded for them."

Mueller's case is not the first that has prompted federal agents and prosecutors to speak out about the sentences being given to Innocent Images offenders. The cases, they argue, take up considerable time -- in Mueller's case, about 1,300 hours of investigation went into the sting -- and require costly outlays for computer equipment and surveillance.

Often, offenders receive 18 months or less for the crimes, which prosecutors argue should be considered violent acts because the offenders intended to have sex with minors.

Mueller, a native of Hagen, Germany, was a product manager for a German computer software company and had flown to Boston in February to work on an extended project for his employer.

While there, he began a six-week chat room correspondence with the undercover federal agent, who told him he was a 14-year-old boy named Kirk living in Columbia. Mueller told the undercover agent he wanted to meet him at The Mall in Columbia, then go to a hotel, court papers said.

Mueller drove to Columbia to meet the boy but was arrested by the FBI. He admitted to the agents that he had driven to Maryland hoping to have sex with a child, court papers said.

Mueller's attorney, Max H. Lauten, wrote in court filings that the sentence should take into account that there was no victim.

"There was no actual sexual abuse of a minor, or even attempted sexual abuse of a minor, because there was no minor -- only an FBI agent role-playing on the Internet," Lauten wrote.

Pub Date: 6/05/99

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