HARRISBURG – Attorney General Tom Corbett announced that agents from the Attorney General’s Child Predator Unit have arrested two Lehigh Valley men, both accused of using Internet chat rooms to sexually solicit what they believed were young girls, as well as sending nude or sexually explicit photos and webcam videos to the girls. The “girls” were actually undercover agents from the Child Predator Unit.
Corbett identified the defendants as John William Sell, 45, Allentown and Michael R. Schatzabel, 58, Easton. Sell works for an insurance company and Schatzabel is a musician and former Northampton County corrections officer.
“Today’s arrests are examples of the growing trend of ‘webcam predators’ – men who seek sexual gratification by sending nude photos or videos to what they believe are children,” Corbett said. “This is part of a growing trend we are seeing across the state, involving predators who hide in the comfort and security of their own homes, using high-tech tools like webcams, digital cameras and online chat rooms to try to steal the innocence of unsuspecting children.”
Corbett explained that the Child Predator Unit was created in January 2005 to conduct proactive undercover investigations to identify and capture Internet predators before they can harm children. Including today’s arrests, the unit has arrested 126 Internet predators, including 64 over the past 12-months. To date, the Child Predator Unit has a 100% conviction rate.
Corbett noted that the techniques used by Internet predators change rapidly, spurred by developments in communications technology and changes in where and how children communicate online.
“Predators will always be drawn to locations that give them the greatest access to the largest number of potential victims,” Corbett said. “Today, they stalk a variety of online sites, including chat rooms; social networking websites like MySpace and Facebook; Internet message boards; video game sites; and even online classified ads on Craigslist.com.”
Corbett added that predators will communicate with children in many different ways, using public or private online chat rooms, instant message programs, text messages, email, cell phones and webcams.
“It is essential for parents to understand how quickly online conversations can progress from initial contact to sexually explicit content,” Corbett said. “Often, predators will begin a sexually graphic discussion within minutes of contacting a child, and many suspects transmit nude photos or explicit videos during their first online meeting.”
Corbett explained that children do not need access to a webcam or digital camera in order to view photos or videos being sent by predators, adding that high-speed internet connections and inexpensive digital cameras and webcams make it quick and easy for online predators to send sexually explicit files from the comfort and relative safety of their homes.
Of the 64 Internet predators arrested by the Child Predator Unit over the past year, nearly 75 percent of those cases involved individuals who sent sexually explicit photos or video.
Corbett said that both suspects arrested today in the Lehigh Valley followed the pattern of other recent “webcam predator” cases:
According to the criminal complaint, Sell attempted to contact an undercover agent in December 2007, identifying himself as a 45-year old man from eastern Pennsylvania who was interested in chatting and sending her a series of instant messages. At the time, the agent was using the online identity of a 14-year old girl.
Corbett said that during their first online chat, in late December, Sell allegedly confirmed the girl’s age and sent her a photograph of himself. Approximately one week later, during a second online chat, Sell allegedly asked the girl if she wanted to see a man naked, and then proceeded to send her a webcam video that showed Sell masturbating in front of his computer.
According to the criminal complaint, Sell sent additional nude photos to the girl and asked her to send some in return, telling her, “one day I want to see some naked pics of you, sweetie,” and encouraging her to borrow a friend’s digital camera to take the pictures.
Corbett said that Schatzabel allegedly contacted an undercover agent in September 2007, using an online chat room created to discuss Playstation video games.
According to the criminal complaint, Schatzabel initially identified himself as a 16-year old boy, and almost immediately sent the girl a sexually explicit webcam video. At the time, the agent was using the online profile of a 12-year old girl.
Corbett said that Schatzabel allegedly engaged in a series of online chats with the girl, between September and December 2007, instructing her to masturbate and sending her a total of six nude webcam videos.
Sell and Schatzabel were both arrested by agents from the Child Predator Unit, with the assistance of the Allentown and Easton police departments.
Sell is charged with two counts of unlawful contact with a minor, along with one count of criminal use of a computer, all third-degree felonies which are each punishable by up to seven years in prison and $15,000 fines. His case will be prosecuted in Lehigh County.
Schatzabel is charged with six counts of unlawful contact with a minor and one count of criminal use of a computer, all third-degree felonies which are each punishable by up to seven years in prison and $15,000 fines. His case will be prosecuted in Northampton County.
Agents have also executed search warrants on the homes of both defendants, to locate and seize computers, webcams, digital cameras and other electronic devices that may have been used to transmit or store explicit photos or video. Those items will be analyzed by the Attorney General’s Computer Forensics Unit as part of an ongoing investigation.
Corbett said that both cases will be handled by Deputy Attorney General Michael A. Sprow, of the Attorney General’s Child Predator Unit.
Corbett thanked the Salisbury Township Police Department, in Lehigh County, and the Palmer Township Police Department, in Northampton County, for their cooperation and assistance with today’s arrests and searches.