Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Internet Con Man Dupes Mothers into Abusing Their Kids
By JEFF KAROUB
(MICHIGAN, USA) In real life, Steven Demink didn't have children, a college degree or a lasting career. Online, prosecutors say, he presented himself as Dalton St. Clair, an attractive single father and psychologist — a fantasy image authorities say the Michigan man used to persuade mothers across the country to commit unspeakable acts on their children.
Demink, 41, of Redford Township, preyed on single mothers for more than a year, prosecutors say, convincing them to sexually assault their children as a form of therapy. After pleading guilty Monday to six charges related to the sexual exploitation of children, Demink faces 15 years to life in prison when he is sentenced in June.
Demink's alter-ego was a single father of a 14-year-old girl, prosecutors said, and he posted pictures of male models as his headshots. In some cases, court documents say, Demink promised the women a date if they followed through with his directions.
Since authorities arrested him in October, seven children were rescued and at least three mothers have been arrested. Prosecutors say all of the children are now safe.
Authorities say Demink chatted with mothers from New Hampshire, Florida, Idaho and elsewhere, persuading them to engage in sexual acts with their children and send images via e-mail or through a live web stream. The children ranged in age from 3 to 15.
Demink told U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen that before his arrest, he worked as a car salesman for about six months and before that for about five years at a local bank. He said he completed a U.S. Customs and Border Protection training program in 2002 and worked for the Immigration and Naturalization Service for about a year. He attended college for about two years but did not earn a degree, he said.
As part of his plea agreement with prosecutors, seven charges against Demink were dropped.
In one case, Demink started online chats with an Oregon woman about the sexual development of her 8-year-old autistic son, according to the plea agreement. He told her to engage in sexually explicit conduct with her son as a way to teach him about sex, prosecutors say, and she did so while Demink watched on a web camera.
"Demink intimated to these women that the result of the therapy would be healthier children," the document said.
Federal agents were tipped off to his operation by the Teton County Sheriff's Office in Idaho, said Khaalid Walls, a spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of Homeland Security Investigations. The mother of a woman who had been chatting with him called sheriff's officials in late 2009.
A Teton County Sheriff's Office report from December 2009 said the Idaho woman met "Daltonst28" on an online dating site called singleparentmeet.com. She told police she performed sex acts on her young son as directed by her online male friend.
The woman's mother, Eileen Schwab of Idaho, said she knows little of how Demink convinced her daughter to follow his orders. She said her daughter was "depressed and lonesome" after her divorce.
"I don't know how he wrangled her in," Schwab said. "She could have turned off the computer and gone the other way. He must have had a power over her."
Her daughter pleaded guilty last May to lewd conduct with a child under 16 and is currently in prison.
Another mother who was arrested was from New Hampshire and pleaded guilty in December to producing child pornography, which carries a possible sentenced of 15 to 30 years in prison. She is scheduled to be sentenced in March. A message was left seeking comment from Larry Dash, a federal defender representing her.
A woman from Lee County, Fla., also has pleaded not guilty to five counts and was being held without bond in Florida. She faces a May trial in federal court in Fort Myers, federal defender Martin DerOvanesian said.
Prosecutors say Demink also is linked to four other mothers in Indiana, Georgia, Illinois and Oregon but has not been charged with crimes related to those communications. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Mulcahy said those cases can be considered during sentencing.
We are not naming the women to protect the identity of the children.
Demink's attorney, Timothy Dinan, said his client "has expressed a lot of remorse" for what he did and has taken responsibility by pleading guilty. Dinan said Demink's parents, who declined to be interviewed, are praying for their son as well as the victims and their families.
"It's a shame he couldn't ask for help," Dinan said.