Minnesota attorney who has gone after abusive priests has new target: child pornographers

By Amy Forliti, AP
Thursday, May 27, 2010

Minn. lawyer aims to track, sue child porn users

ST. PAUL, Minn. — An attorney who has filed thousands of lawsuits against priests accused of sexual abuse said Wednesday he plans to use a little-known federal law to take on those who download child pornography.

Jeffrey Anderson said the goal of his latest lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota, is to prevent the dissemination of child pornography by exposing perpetrators and making them pay.

“If you choose to download images of child pornography, we will track you,” Anderson said. “We will find you. We will expose you. And we will sue you.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a Minnesota boy who was 9 when images of him were taken. The defendants include one man, Gregg Alan Larsen, 49, of Minneapolis, and 100 unnamed “downloaders” who received and viewed images of the boy. Once those people’s identities are known, they will be named in the lawsuit, Anderson said.

The case is based on a federal law that was enhanced in 2006 to increase the minimum civil penalty for anyone who downloads child pornography to $150,000. “Masha’s Law,” named after a girl adopted from Russia at age 5 by a man who sexually abused her and recorded it, does not require that a defendant be convicted of a crime.

There have been few cases pursued under Masha’s Law. Jeanne Cooney, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minnesota, said the office isn’t aware of any other cases like Anderson’s but supports any action that deters child pornography and helps victims.

Anderson said he won’t get in the way of a criminal investigation but would seek court orders for access to evidence collected by authorities, such as IP addresses, e-mails or other electronic threads left when an image is downloaded.

“We’ve got the will, law enforcement has got the way,” he said.

The lawsuit stems from a criminal case against Larsen, a former high school special education teacher and foster parent who was indicted last week on child pornography charges. Anderson said the boy he is representing was one of Larsen’s victims.

According to the lawsuit, the victim’s mother provided day care for Larsen’s children, and the victim occasionally went swimming with Larsen and had sleepovers with Larsen’s children.

While the victim was at Larsen’s home, the lawsuit says, Larsen engaged in sexually explicit conduct with the boy and created images. The lawsuit says Larsen uploaded the images to his computer and distributed them to child pornography websites.

A person who answered the phone at the office of Larsen’s criminal defense attorney, Joseph Tamburino, said Tamburino had no comment. Larsen has pleaded not guilty and is in custody.

Howie Padilla, a spokesman for St. Paul Public Schools, said the district learned of the allegations last summer, and that Larsen started this school year on leave from his job at Central High School. Larsen resigned May 4, Padilla said.

Anderson said he plans to find the people who downloaded images from Larsen’s computer. If he’s successful, he could be on the forefront of child pornography litigation, according to legal experts and other attorneys.

James Marsh, an attorney who represented the young woman for which Masha’s Law was named, said few lawsuits have been filed under it partly because few child pornography victims come forward. Also, jurisdictional issues can pose a problem. But he said Anderson’s approach is novel.

“The real key to success here will be his ability to join all of these matters in Minnesota. If he can’t do that, it will be a nightmare of epic proportions,” Marsh said. “There are a lot of barriers to a successful litigation, but we definitely wish him good luck.”

Anderson is used to leading the way. He embarked on a crusade against the Roman Catholic Church in the early 1980s, and since 1983, he and his law firm have sued thousands of priests, bishops, and dioceses over allegations of sexual abuse by priests.

He said Wednesday this child pornography lawsuit feels like his early endeavors against the church.

“What we wanted to do then was get justice and accountability,” he said. “What we want to do now is get justice, but before justice can be done, what we want most is for children to be protected.”

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