EXCLUSIVE : His lawyer made headlines by publicly challenging Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli’s practice of having detectives troll chat rooms posing as minors, but little more than a week after a CLIFFVIEW PILOT article about the legality of the tactic, Walter Domanski Jr. has pleaded guilty in connection with his arrest.
Domanski (l.), Molinelli
Domanski was originally charged last December with driving up from Ship Bottom, on Long Beach Island, for what Molinelli’s investigators said he thought would be a sexual tryst with a 6-year-old.
But Domanski’s attorney, Steven Savage, told CLIFFVIEW PILOT he considered the case was “yet another example of the State and Bergen County prosecutors overcharging a defendant just to make sure that something sticks.”
It was highly unusual for an attorney to go on the offensive in such a fiercely public style. But Savage told
“The ‘child’ involved in these allegations is a hypothetical one. In other words, no such child, victim or otherwise, exists — so, no such attempted victimization was possible.
Investigators from Molinelli’s Computer Crimes Unit arrested Domanski and a Brick Township man, 28-year-old Seth Dixon, following an investigation by what Savage dubbed “members of a loosely organized task force comprised of several otherwise disconnected police agencies.”
“There was not even so much as an allegation of an actual physical attempt of anything by Mr. Domanski beyond, perhaps, driving his car in a general direction,” Savage, of Newark, told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “He’s permitted to do that as a licensed driver in the State of New Jersey.”
The prosecutor originally responded to Savage’s allegations by saying: “Don’t need to give him his 15 minutes of fame, so ‘No comment.’
On Monday, Molinelli told CLIFFVIEW PILOT that Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Brian Sinclair will be seeking the 10-year maximum from Superior Court Judge Liliana S. Deavila-Silebi after Domanski pleaded out in her courtroom on Friday. It was unclear how this might affect Dixon’s case.
Other defense lawyers have argued that crimes cannot be committed against “virtual victims” — and lost, as CLIFFVIEW PILOT showed in a May 16 legal analysis, nine days before Domanski’s guilty plea. ( FOR THE FULL STORY : CLICK HERE )
As a result, Molinelli says, real children have been protected from would-be predators, thanks to his Computer Crimes Task Force, under the direction of Chief Steven Cucciniello, one of the most active units in the state — if not the entire Northeast.
Last year, New Jersey’s Appellate Division just last year unequivocally rejected the “virtual victim” defense of a man who was convicted of traveling to meet a purported child.
The defendant, Edward C. Kuhn, had a series of Internet and phone conversations with investigators from the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office who represented themselves as “Mandi,” the judges wrote in their ruling. Detectives used the screen name “sojerzeygrl1991,” intended to suggest a child born that year. They included a photo of a female investigator that was taken when she was 10 years old and had long hair.
In the space designated for hobbies, it said: “Boys, Boys, and what else? oh Boyz!”
At one point, “Mandi” entered a chat room known as “Romance, Regional, New Jersey,” and hung out — not contacting anyone, court papers show. Kuhn showed up, with a foul screen name that won’t be repeated here, and messaged “hey” to Mandi, prosecutors said.
Mandi told him she lived with her father, who wasn’t home. When he asked, she said she was 13 and had shoulder-length hair, court papers show.
Kuhn said he “would love to brush her hair and asked if he could come to her room and brush it,” the appeals court wrote. “When she said not now, [he] asked when he could, questioned her about her father’s work hours and whether she wore a uniform with a skirt when she went to school.”
The conversation eventually turned to sex, with “Ed” giving graphic “step-by-step” instructions for masturbation — then sending a web cam feed of himself doing it, the ruling says.
They eventually arranged a meeting, with Kuhn traveling to an agreed-upon destination — as prosecutors said Domanski did.
It was an intricate case, with four convictions that a state appeals court later overturned. However, the judges affirmed the investigators’ tactics and found that Kuhn’s subsequent convictions for “attempted crimes” were appropriate.
As the Appellate Court judges noted, they upheld a similar conviction four years ago of a man who was arrested after first sending graphic messages and then showing up at the Bridgewater Commons Mall in Somerset County for what he apparently thought was a liaison with a 13-year-old girl who called herself “Sara Silly.”
Such conduct is “purposeful” if someone “is aware of the existence of such circumstances or [if] he believes or hopes that they exist,” the appeals court wrote.
In short, the judges concluded: “A defendant’s subjective belief that a victim is a child suffices to impose liability for attempted endangering when that person was actually an adult (law enforcement).”
Domanski, 52, is a professional ocean lifeguard, Coast Guard Auxiliary officer, and was national director of the Exercise Tiger National Foundation, which looks to recognize American military who participated in Exercise Tiger in April 1944, a full-scale rehearsal for the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
“There are no statutes that really address the ‘virtual’ activities which the Bergen County Prosecutor alleges my client did,” Savage said. “The law is so deficient in this regard that the State has to use grossly inflammatory language that basically implies that the police caught Walter in flagrante with an actual child—and just in the nick of time.
“This deception makes the State’s job easier, but it certainly puts the general public at a big disadvantage.”
Savage even went so far as to raise the spectre of entrapment “and maybe even the constitutional rights of speech and association, among other issues.”
That all went by the boards on Friday.
As the indictment alleges, an Internet crime investigator contacted Dixon, who is single, after finding him distributing child pornography. He, in turn, introduced the agent to Domanski and arrangements were made, the prosecutor said. Illegal images were later found on Domanski’s computer, Molinelli added.
Several local departments loaned officers to the Computer Crimes Task Force to help with the investigation and arrests, Molinelli said:
Lyndhurst Police Department
Montvale Police Department
Ramsey Police Department
River Vale Police Department
Saddle River Police Department
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