By Mark E. Vogler
Michael Fornesi, 20, said he got involved in a computer sex crime investigation early Monday morning by telling his friend - Lawrence police Sgt. Ryan Shafer - about an instant text message he received on his computer from a stranger seeking sex with a child.
On advice from Shafer, Fornesi pretended to be a 15-year-old boy and answered the e-mail. The e-mail exchange escalated into a telephone conversation, with the author, known as Topdadd, driving to Lawrence in hopes of having sex with the boy in the woods or in a hotel.
Less than an hour after Fornesi complained about the initial e-mail, Shafer was waiting in the dark parking lot of Day Charter School. About 1:15 a.m., he arrested Scondras.
Scondras, 60, of Cambridge, pleaded not guilty yesterday in Lawrence District Court to charges of enticement of a child under the age of 16, selling or delivering liquor to a person under 21, assault and battery on a police officer, resisting arrest, and larceny under $250. He was released yesterday on $1,500 cash bail and is due back in court Nov. 16.
Judge Thomas Brennan ordered Scondras not to use his computer and to have no contact with children. The judge also imposed a bail warning that would result in Scondras being held in jail for up to 60 days if he had any further legal trouble while this case is pending.
"Here's the case of an aspiring police officer playing a key role in our apprehension of a would-be child sex predator," Lawrence police Chief John Romero said of Fornesi, whose father, John, is a 17-year member of the police force.
"The Internet can be a dangerous place for children to become the potential victims of pedophiles. That's why we need people to do what Mike did," Romero said.
Scondras' attorney David Duncan of Boston did not return telephone calls yesterday. Essex County Assistant District Attorney Jessica Strasnick is prosecuting the case.
Michael Fornesi is completing his associate's degree in criminal justice at Northern Essex Community College. He also works as a security guard and had just gone off duty shortly after midnight Monday when he met Shafer outside Lawrence General Hospital.
"If Ryan wasn't there, I probably would have ignored it," Fornesi said of the message he received on his portable laptop computer.
"But when I ran into him, I told him 'Can you believe this sicko?' If we didn't play along with this guy, who knows who would have met up with him," Fornesi said.
Shafer said Scondras probably contacted Fornesi after discovering the security guard's computer screen name, Cubscout4Mastr86 on the Internet.
The reference to Cub Scouts would be appealing to predators surfing the Internet for sex, according to police.
"I used it once in a while if I don't want my friends to know I'm online," Fornesi said. "But I'm deleting that screen name now," he said.
Shafer said it was obvious from the "very graphic and very explicit content" of the e-mail Fornesi had received that the author was craving sex from a child. The note was accompanied by several sexually explicit photographs.
Shortly after Fornesi sent his e-mail response, he received another instant message with a cell phone number to call.
Fornesi made a call on his cell phone with the officer monitoring it.
"You know a lot of people have prejudice against guys who like to have sex with children," the man at the other end of the phone told Fornesi, according to court documents filed yesterday.
The stranger wanted to a bring a buddy to join them in sex, but Fornesi told him to come alone. Fornesi asked the man if he was going to bring condoms. The man said he didn't use condoms because he got tested for HIV every six months, according to the court papers.
When Scondras drove up in his 1994 Nissan Sentra, Fornesi - pretending to be the 15-year-old boy - called him over to a wooded area.
Shafer displayed his badge and ordered Scondras to get on the ground.
"When I came out from behind the barrels, he froze for a moment," Shafer recalled.
"Then, when he realized how much trouble he was in, he grabbed the cell phone off my belt and tried to make a run for it," Shafer said.
"I grabbed him by the back of his shirt and pulled him down to the ground. He was yelling 'I didn't do anything,'" he said.
Other officers helped Shafer subdue Scondras and handcuff him, police said.
Scondras was the first openly gay member of the Boston City Council, serving five, two-year terms from 1983 to 1993.
Later, he became an AIDS activist and served as president of Boston's Search for a Cure. In 1995, he was invited to a meeting of national AIDS activists hosted by President Clinton.
A year later, Scondras suffered a broken jaw, bruised kidney and other injuries in a controversial incident. A 16-year-old boy, who Scondras took to a movie theater, claimed he attacked Scondras because he was groped. Indecent assault charges initiated against Scondras by the family were dropped when the teen refused to testify.