Seeking to allay the fears of New Jerseyans wondering whether an errant click on a spam e-mail could lead to troopers showing up at their door, a police spokesman said yesterday that troopers built up an abundance of evidence before charging 36 New Jersey residents with distributing or possessing a child-rape video.
"This is not a situation where they clicked on and said, 'Jeez, this is not what I want,' and then deleted it," State Police Capt. Al Della Fave said.
On Thursday, police announced the arrests of 36 people who allegedly distributed or possessed a video of a 5-year-old Georgia girl being raped.
The arrests covered a cross section of ages, counties and professions, including a doctor from Somerset County, a lawyer from Sussex County and a hockey coach from Morris County. Those arrested range in age from 14 to 61.
Della Fave said that those charged actively sought out the video, downloaded it and, in some cases, forwarded it to others.
"The people that were charged in this investigation were not the victims of a mistake," said Steve Jones of the New Jersey State Police. "Many of them were found with additional images - even libraries of this type of material. There was also evidence on the bulk of them that indicated these images were not only received, but transmitted from them to others."
Della Fave said that while the search warrants were signed out of Mercer County, each case will be heard separately in the individual counties of the accused.
The arrests were attributed to new computer forensic technology that detects shared child-porn files. In just two days, the cyberspace-filtering technology found the child-rape video on about 10,500 computers worldwide, Jones said.
He wasn't aware of other states or countries that had used the new technology to make child porn arrests.
Authorities previously arrested the man in the video, James Bidwell of Georgia, after he sent copies of the videotape he made to Canada and England. He is now serving 45 years in prison after pleading guilty in 2002 to sexual assault and child pornography charges.
The New Jersey arrests stunned communities where the accused, in some cases prominent men, lived or worked.
Jeffrey Patti, 36, of Sparta, is a partner with his father in a law firm and - until yesterday - was the Sparta municipal chairman of the Sussex County Republicans.
"He offered his resignation, and I accepted it," Sussex County GOP Chairman Rich Zeoli said. "Jeff did the right thing for the party in stepping down. I pray for his wife and children."
Patti has a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old daughter.
"It's just shocking, and I'm praying there's an explanation," said Sparta Councilwoman Ailish Hambel, also a member of the Sussex County Republican Committee. "My heart goes out to the family, and we'll just wait and see how the system works. I'm just praying there's an explanation."
Authorities executing a search warrant removed a computer from Patti's home Thursday morning, his father said. Patti had a first appearance in Sparta municipal court that afternoon and announced his intention to plead not guilty, his father said.
Frank Patti said Jeffrey Patti "vehemently denies" the charges. The father said the charges might have been the result of a computer mistake.
"You hit something you think you want, it's something else, then you delete it. That's the only explanation I have. We're trying like hell to figure out what happened."