Attorney General Mike Cox today announced that an undercover investigation involving the classifieds Web site craigslist resulted in child sex predator charges against a Michigan man and revealed serious holes in craigslist's commitment to protect children against online sex predators. Cox challenged craigslist to immediately address his concerns and create a safer online community.
"We must remain vigilant in the fight to protect our children online because child predators are constantly looking for their next victim," said Cox. "It is time that craigslist makes a real commitment to help protect children from predators."
The investigation involved undercover agents, posing as a boy, a parent, and a teacher, e-mailing craigslist officials and asking for help with a suspected child sex predator encountered on craigslist. The messages reported inappropriate behavior conducted on craigslist, yet were ignored or merely received an automated response from craigslist.
Craigslist also ignored repeated e-mails from Attorney General officials requesting it to place links to the Attorney General's website on craigslist so victims may directly contact the office for help.
Additionally, Cox announced that the investigation resulted in the Attorney General's seventh craigslist-related arrest. Steven Gerard LaJoie, a former teacher and school administrator, was charged with one count of Child Sexually Abusive Activity (a 20-year felony), one count of Using the Internet to commit Child Sexually Abusive Activity (a 20-year felony), and one count of Using the Internet to commit Disseminating Sexually Explicit Matter to a Minor (a 4-year felony). Undercover investigators arrested LaJoie, 49, of Oxford, after he asked who he thought was a 14-year-old boy to meet for sex.
LaJoie reported previous employment at several Michigan schools, including Eaton Academy of Eastpointe, and Notre Dame Preparatory School of Pontiac.
"The arrest of another Internet predator on craigslist highlights the real threat predators pose to our children on this site," said Cox. "While we will continue to monitor various Internet sites for child predators, I am calling on craigslist today to take immediate steps to improve the level of child safety on its website."
In a letter sent to craigslist, Cox called for the company to take the following actions:
- Establish public guidelines on how craigslist will respond to notifications of a crime.
- Commit to forwarding all alleged crimes to a centralized authority, such as the Michigan State Police and other central law enforcement officials in each state.
- Designate staff to give immediate responses to law enforcement authorities who contact craigslist.
- Create and maintain web links to the Michigan Attorney General's office, state police departments, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and any other law enforcement agencies that request to be listed.
- Provide easier access to the "exploitation of minors" link because it is currently very difficult to locate on the craigslist website.
The Attorney General's office has arrested six other men resulting from craigslist investigations. The Attorney General's office has arrested 228 Internet predators since 2003 and was instrumental in working with MySpace and Facebook to remove predators and protect children on these social networking websites. In 2008, Cox signed separate agreements with MySpace and Facebook. Among the conditions in these agreements, the social networking websites committed to responding to complaints within 72 hours, providing more staff to review photographs, and removing inappropriate material, such as pornographic pictures and links. The Attorney General's office continues to monitor various websites for signs of illegal activities.