Saturday, June 7, 2003

Maui man convicted
in Internet sex case

A federal jury found a Maui man guilty yesterday of attempting to use the Internet to entice a 15-year-old Wyoming girl to come to Hawaii to have sex with him.

Thomas Schnepper, 38, a Lahaina scuba instructor and part owner of a coffee roasting business, was also convicted of five counts of attempting to transfer obscene material to someone whom he believed was younger than 16 years old.

Schnepper showed no emotion yesterday when the verdicts were announced. But his attorney, Richard Kawana, said his client was disappointed and that they expect to appeal.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Tong had described Schnepper as a sexual predator who groomed the girl by discussing his penchant for younger girls, using graphic and obscene language to describe his sexual fantasies about rape and what he would do if she came to Hawaii to be with him. Schnepper also e-mailed her some nude photos of himself.

Unbeknownst to Schnepper, the "Mandy Swanson" he was communicating with over a two-month period was actually a federal agent in Cheyenne, Wyo., who was part of a task force that investigates Internet crimes against children.

Upon learning the girl was flying to Oahu with her grandmother in February 2002, Schnepper sent her a plane ticket to fly to Maui and drove to the Kahului Airport to greet her. He was arrested at the airport with a lei, condoms in his pocket and a pair of purple handcuffs that matched the color of his motorcycle.

Schnepper maintained he knew from the start that "Mandy" was not a 15-year-old, but an adult. He said he was playing an online sexual game with her. When he showed up at the airport, he truly believed he would be meeting an adult, Kawana said.

Schnepper faces a maximum 15 years in federal prison when sentenced Sept. 29. He remains in custody pending sentencing.


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