Man on trial in
Internet sex case
Thomas Schnepper is a sexual predator who used the Internet to induce a 15-year-old Wyoming girl to come to Hawaii and have kinky sex with him, federal prosecutors say.
But Schnepper's attorney describes him as a scuba diving instructor from Lahaina who got swept up logging on to adult Internet chatrooms and engaging in adult sex games and fantasies with people he met online.
Schnepper, in his late 30s, went on trial in U.S. District Court yesterday on charges of using the Internet to attempt to entice a minor to have sex, sending obscene pictures to a minor and sending child pornography.
Schnepper felt what he was doing was "perfectly legal," defense attorney Richard Kawana said yesterday.
Even when Schnepper showed up at Kahului Airport in February 2002 to greet the person whom he knew only as "Mandy Swanson," it was all a game to him, and he fully expected an adult to show up, Kawana said.
In a chatroom, Schnepper corresponded with people who were role-playing, expressing their sexual fantasies and trying to one-up each other into getting the other person to admit who they really were, Kawana said. They also exchanged graphic sexual images.
"Tom got sucked up into this," Kawana said.
But Schnepper always believed he was corresponding with adults, even when he began chatting with a "Mandy Swanson" from Cheyenne, Wyo., who went by the screen name "MandyIsHot420" and whose profile indicated she was interested in topics that included "older men for younger women."
Although she insisted she was only 15, Schnepper always believed she was an adult who was into sexual games like himself, Kawana said.
What Schnepper did not know was that he was corresponding with a special agent in Wyoming assigned to a task force that investigates Internet crimes against children.
Schnepper initiated the first chat with "Mandy" in December 2001, said assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Tong. He told her he was looking for a younger girl, Tong said.
When she told him she was 15, he allegedly told her he liked her age and wanted to have sex with her. Within 20 minutes, Schnepper had e-mailed her five photos of himself, including a photo of him holding an exposed part of his anatomy, Tong said.
During subsequent chats over the next two months, Schnepper discussed his penchant for younger girls, having sex with a 13-year-old and sexual fantasies about rape, Tong said. He also e-mailed more pictures of himself and of a young girl having sex with an older man.
When "Mandy" told Schnepper she was flying to Hawaii with her grandmother in February 2002, he purchased a ticket for her to fly to Maui from Oahu and went to meet her at Kahului Airport.
FBI agents arrested Schnepper, who admitted he was there to meet "Mandy." He admitted sending pictures of himself and that one of the pictures depicted child pornography, Tong said.
Schnepper also admitted he was going to use handcuffs on Mandy, but only if she agreed, "because, after all, I am not a rapist," according to Tong.
If convicted, Schnepper faces up to 15 years in prison.