BOSTON — With anecdotal evidence suggesting computer crimes on the rise and children facing increased risks on the Internet, a bill introduced in the Senate this session would expand the state’s asset forfeiture laws to allow prosecutors to go after the computers, cell phones, cars and homes of child predators convicted on child pornography and enticement charges.
The effort to update the law in the mold of 22 other states follows what prosecutors described as “among the worst cases of child abuse ever prosecuted” when referring to the case of John Burbine, a Wakefield resident and Level One sex offender accused of raping 13 children who he and his wife babysat in their home.
The Burbine case has also spawned calls from lawmakers for reforms of the Sex Offender Registry Board.
Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, and Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian are teaming up to push an expansion of the state’s asset forfeiture laws to include criminal convictions on child pornography and enticement cases, hoping to divert any revenue collected to computer crime investigation and prosecution.
“As a parent you want to do everything you can to protect your children. Like most kids, my kids are on their iPad, their iTouches and it’s scary out there. I think we need to give the law enforcement people, the district attorney and attorney general the tools they need to prevent these heinous crimes,” Finegold said yesterday, sitting down in his office with Koutoujian to discuss the bill he has filed this session.
Under state law, prosecutors can seek judicial approval to seize the assets of defendants convicted on controlled substance or human trafficking offenses, but not child pornography. The bill would extend the current law to include those types of cases, generating a modest revenue stream to help fund what Koutoujian described as underfunded and understaffed computer crimes units.
The money collected through property seizures of cell phones, computers, cars, and in some cases homes used in the commission of the crime could also be used under the proposal for victim services and digital literacy education programs for families.
“I don’t believe this is going to be any kind of cash cow,” Koutoujian said.
According to the Massachusetts Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce, the State Police in 2012 made 16 arrests, received 134 tips, conducted 44 investigations and performed 318 forensic examinations in Middlesex County alone on child cyber-crimes. Statewide, there were 60 arrests, 1,553 investigations and 483 computer exams in 2011.
“It’s terrifying that one out of every seven children who are regular Internet users will receive a sexual solicitation on the Internet and that’s why we need to push for legislation like this,” Finegold said.
Finegold said he and his wife were researching day care options for their one-year-old son when the Burbine story broke. “It shocks the system,” Finegold said.
As many as 22 other states have similar laws on the books, including neighboring Connecticut. Koutoujian said the threat of asset forfeiture could also serve as a deterrent.