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2006 'To Catch A Predator' effort in Petaluma netted 27 convictions, criticism

Nearly five years after a televised child-sex sting in Petaluma led to the conviction of 27 men, the last of the alleged predators is going to trial.

Joseph Louis Roisman, 25, of Watsonville is accused of attempting to have sex with a chat room decoy posing as a 13-year-old girl. He was arrested by police staked out at a Castle Drive house after he made a 110-mile bus trip north.

The sting was filmed by hidden cameras and aired on NBC Dateline's controversial show "To Catch a Predator."

The partnership between broadcasters and the group Perverted Justice raised awareness of the risks posed by the Internet in a city that gained national attention for the kidnap and murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas, Petaluma police Lt. Matt Stapleton said.

Stapleton has credited the operation with scaring off potential molesters.

"I think it brought an intense awareness to the issue throughout our community and Sonoma County," Stapleton said. "It's what we anticipated and achieved."

So far, prosecutors have won convictions against nearly all of the 31 men charged in the operation, conducted Aug. 25-27, 2006.

Among the most infamous of the defendants was Piedmont physician Maurice Wolin, who like the others was ordered to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life after his plea on the eve of trial last year. Others received jail or prison time.

Police have arrest warrants for three men who failed to appear at court hearings, Chief Deputy District Attorney Joan Risse said.

Roisman is charged similarly with attempting lewd and lascivious acts on a child under 14. He has pleaded not guilty and has requested a jury trial, which begins with motions Friday.

Roisman's lawyer is expected to argue that his client didn't think the online decoy was a minor and that his client, an ex-sailor, was encouraged to make the visit by television crews motivated by profit.

"To Catch a Predator" was criticized for blurring the line between news gathering and law enforcement. Some accused the show of entrapment. The show was canceled in 2008.

"It's a case that points out the evils of the whole process," Roisman's attorney Stephen Turer said. "You have people being paid to lure people in. And their conversation belies the fact that they are young."

Roisman was arrested Aug. 27, 2006. Detectives testified at his preliminary hearing that he began chatting online the day before with a Perverted Justice volunteer based in Wisconsin.

She used the Internet name "Tori_Rox_2006" and identified herself as a 13-year-old girl living in Petaluma, according to court papers.

Roisman, then 21 and on leave from the Navy, asks in his chat about the oldest person she's had sex with and suggests the two "go see a movie or cut up some fruit and eat it off each other," the court papers said.

At one point, he describes the size of his genitals.

Then the decoy says her mother is out of town until Monday and gives Roisman her address. Roisman agrees to a visit.

Roisman boarded a Greyhound bus from Santa Cruz. He arrived in Petaluma, walked into the backyard of the house and was greeted by a television host and cameras.

A search of Roisman's backpack after his arrest turned up a bus ticket, a handwritten note with directions to the target house and a business card for a Sonoma County taxi company.

A detective who interviewed Roisman said he admitted he knew the girl he was coming to meet was 13. He also allegedly told the detective she looked 13 in her online profile picture.

However, Roisman's lawyer denied his client believed she was so young, saying she sounded much older. He said Roisman confronted her in what he described as an adult chat room and she didn't respond, indicating to Roisman that she was indeed older.

"People often say things on the Internet that are not true," Turer said.

The sting, Turer said, amounts to a type of encouraging or grooming on the part of authorities and is unfair. Since his arrest, Roisman has been kicked out of the Navy, Turer said.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com.

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