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Sitting alone at the defense table while his attorney approached the bench, his head in his hands and a thick case file in front of him, P.M. was virtually indistinguishable from any of the other young men who found themselves before Philadelphia Family Court Judge Joseph C. Bruno this week. But while most juvenile defendants were being prosecuted for crimes of the streets — theft, drug possession, assault — P.M. was on trial for a crime of the future. In a deal with prosecutors, the 15-year-old admitted to making terroristic threats and possessing an instrument of crime in connection with a series of incidents at Temple University’s Engineering School last fall. But the threat, made on the life of a federal judge in New York, wasn’t scrawled on a piece of paper, and P.M. wasn’t identified because of an errant fingerprint. Rather, the threat was communicated via e-mail, and P.M. was caught on the basis of the Internet Protocol address — the digital fingerprint — of the computer from which he sent his angry missive. P.M.’s case is representative of an escalating trend in the legal system, the migration of traditional crimes like fraud, theft and harassment from the pen-and-paper world to its digital counterpart. Meanwhile, headlines over the last year have hyped a host of new offenses — hacking into credit-card databases, spreading computer viruses, instigating denial-of-service attacks on World Wide Web sites — that would have been unimaginable a decade ago. In response, late last year the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office beefed up its manpower in the area of Internet and computer-related crime, and rechristened its economic crime division as the Economic and Cyber Crime Unit. “Economic crime, especially lately, has involved a lot of computer stuff; it’s a natural progression,” said James Berardinelli, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted P.M. “With the computer capabilities these kids have these days, we’re going to see more of them.” A TROUBLED YOUTH On Oct. 27 of last year, the Philadelphia’s NBC-10 and the editors of The New York Law Journal (a publication of American Lawyer Media, which also publishes The Legal Intelligencer) received e-mail messages from a man identifying himself as Shaykh Yaseem Bilal Abdur-Razzaq, a lieutenant in the international terrorist network of Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden. The letter demanded the release of three Arab men imprisoned in connection with the failed 1993 plot to blow up several New York City landmarks. If they were not released, the letter claimed, bin Laden’s forces would commence a “holy war” against the United States and Judge Michael B. Mukasey of the Southern District of New York, who sentenced the three men and seven others to long prison terms, would be killed. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was brought into the case and traced the e-mail messages to a computer lab in Temple engineering school through the IP address — the unique number given to each computer connected to the Internet — printed on the e-mails. The FBI set up surveillance in the building and one eyewitness present Oct. 27 gave a general description of the suspect matching that of P.M. On Nov. 3, P.M. was seen entering the computer lab and, upon failing to produce a Temple student ID card, was held for questioning. A Temple police officer found hard copies of the threatening e-mail messages in the youth’s backpack and notified the FBI. P.M. later confessed to sending the e-mail messages — and to being responsible for the bomb scare that had shut down the engineering school the day before. P.M. was arrested and charged with burglary and criminal trespass, both felonies, and several misdemeanor charges, including making terroristic threats, criminal mischief and using facsimile bombs. As investigators learned, he was not connected to any international terrorist conspiracy, but rather to a gifted program at a Philadelphia high school, where, prosecutors believe, he had his first contact with computers. The case was assigned to Berardinelli, an attorney in the Economic and Cyber Crime Unit with previous experience in the DA’s juvenile division. STAYING AU COURANT An “au courant prosecutors’ office” is what Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham says she wants, and by getting funds last year from City Council for a cybercrime unit, she says her wish was granted. “When you pick up a newspaper, when you watch television or when you live your life, [you see] our lives are more and more dominated by computers and computer-related peripherals,” she said. “Crime doesn’t stand in the corner and wait.” Indeed, the number of cybercrime cases handled by the DA’s office has grown significantly. From 17 cases in 1999, prosecutors saw 57 cases in 2000, most dealing with identity theft, forgery or theft by deception. And, Economic and Cyber Crime Unit chief Len Deutchman added dryly, “We do eBay cases.” With its new funding, the unit has expanded significantly. It is in the process of hiring three new prosecutors and six new detectives principally devoted to cybercrime, and it has taken over two floors of the building at 1401 Arch St. in Philadelphia. Manpower is key, Deutchman says, because of the ephemeral nature of electronic records stored by Internet service providers. “With a cybercrime case, if you can’t do it when the case comes in, the odds of getting evidence goes quickly down to zero,” he said. The challenges of solving and prosecuting computer-related crimes are more daunting still given that the perpetrators often have far greater technical expertise than the officers responsible for bringing them to justice. Only half-joking, Deutchman said that the Unix computer language – a favorite of hackers and other e-criminals — is only fully understood by “two cybercrime forensics investigators and a million 16-year-olds.” “The world of computers and the Internet is not something you’re going to be able to school yourself on during working hours,” he added. If investigators and attorneys don’t come to the cybercrime unit with a solid understanding of computers, “it’s going to be hard for you to keep up with people on the other side.” Added Abraham: “Sometimes you don’t stay ahead of criminals but you stay even with them.” Central to that task is cooperation with other law-enforcement agencies. Many, including the Secret Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the FBI — which was took the leading role in catching P.M. — have special units devoted to cybercrime. Prosecutors in Philadelphia recognize that they do not have the funding yet to acquire all the hardware and software necessary to handle all investigations in-house, and that solving cases will frequently require going to other agencies for help. But while the city’s resources may be limited, Abraham noted, “I’ve never been told the federal government doesn’t have enough money to investigate.” PRIVATE PRACTICE Someone who knows that well is Henry Hockeimer, an associate at Philadelphia’s Hangley Aronchick Segal & Pudlin. Hockeimer was on the front lines of the cybercrime war as an assistant U.S. attorney in Oklahoma City from 1995 until last year. In that capacity, he successfully prosecuted a phony Internet bank that raked in $8 million of deposits and a $12 million fraud to sell worthless railroad bonds. Hockeimer said he doubts that cybercriminals will be the scourge of future generation of law enforcement officials. “They have enough knowledge to make a lot of money,” he said, “[but] they don’t have enough sophistication to always get away with it. “I think as the criminals become more sophisticated, law enforcement becomes more sophisticated. But sooner or later, it comes back to traditional investigative methods. Once you follow the trail, it leads you to the criminals.” White-collar criminal defense attorney Elizabeth Ainslie, a partner at Philadelphia’s Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, sees computer-enabled crime not as a new phenomenon, but as old vices being conducted by other means. “The cases I’ve had have not been ones where use of the computer was an issue,” said Ainslie, a former federal prosecutor. “The cases I’ve had have focused on the fraud itself. . . . It’s just a new vehicle for the same old issues.” Many in private practice, however, have noted an increased concern over computer-related crime and in the use of e-mail as evidence in criminal cases. According to litigator Mark Aronchick, a partner at Hangley Aronchick, the e-mail sword cuts both ways. “Because the written word is so powerful in litigation . . . a lot of e-mail puts [defendants] behind the eight-ball,” he said. But Aronchick added that e-mail has also helped him clear defendants at trial. “I’ve had cases where I said, ‘Thank God I have all this archival e-mail,’ because now it’s not just a lot of memories,” he said. “Now I have a lot of evidence that’s exculpatory.” P.M.’S SENTENCE Unfortunately for P.M., the e-mail evidence that would have been presented at his trial if he did not reach a deal with prosecutors would not have been exculpatory. Instead, according to Berardinelli, P.M. will likely spend much of the remainder of his adolescence away from his family. Since his arrest, P.M. has been treated for psychiatric problems at Friends Hospital, and all parties hope to move him soon to Laurel House, a secure residential treatment facility outside Scranton, Pa., recommended by his treating physician. Where, presumably, P.M. will not have unsupervised access to a computer.

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