Maui legislator has entrapped himself in online sex issue


POSTED: Thursday, April 09, 2009

A legislator's reasoning in asking for leniency in the sentencing of a friend convicted of sexually soliciting a 14-year-old girl should give pause to his Maui constituents. Democratic Rep. Joe Bertram III's explanation so far has only worsened his predicament.

Bertram was the only member of the Legislature last year who voted against increased penalties for breaking the law against soliciting sex with children on the Internet. His friend Mark Marcantonio, 52, had been arrested five months earlier after showing up at the Maui Mall in Kahului to meet the girl he had enticed online but who turned out to be an undercover Maui police detective.

Police told the Maui News that Marcantonio arranged the November 2007 meeting after numerous e-mails, a telephone call and a sexual demonstration via Webcam. He talked about how “;he had done this before”; with a 15-year-old Oahu girl, said Deputy Prosecutor Andrew Martin.

Martin asked Circuit Judge Joel August last week to sentence Marcantonio to five years in prison. Marcantonio's attorney asked that he be ordered only to pay a fine and perform community service, since he was undergoing sex-offender counseling. Bertram showed up in court to ask the judge not to put his friend behind bars for committing an “;imaginary crime.”; Marcantonio was sentenced to nine months in prison.

While it is strange to portray showing up at the mall to meet the girl as an imaginary step toward agreed-upon child molestation, Bertram explained to the judge, “;These people, once they meet, it could be that they say this isn't going to work. I know they say this online, but it's a whole different thing when people actually meet.”;

That is such an absurd overview that deer-in-headlights child exploiters caught on NBC-TV's “;To Catch a Predator”; may use it lamely when asked by host Chris Hansen why they're there. When Judge August asked Bertram if police should wait to act until sexual contact with a child has been made, the legislator replied that he didn't like sting operations, according to the Maui News account of the proceedings.

Bertram added that he had not been presented with “;statistics”; supporting the notion that Internet enticement of children is a major problem. In fact, a 2001 University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center survey of 1,500 regular Internet users aged 10 to 17 found that 20 percent had received an unwanted sexual solicitation online.

Arrests of online predators who solicited detectives decoyed as juveniles grew from 644 in 2000 to 3,100 in 2006, according to the center, while arrests of those who solicited juveniles themselves on the Internet went from 508 to 615. Obviously, children are reluctant to report having taken part in such online exchanges.