Either Steven Siegel, a Naples attorney, drove to a Port St. Lucie restaurant Dec. 22 for the purpose of having sexual intercourse with what he thought was a 14-year-old girl.
Or it was a heck of a unique, foolhardy way to pick up women.
Siegel, 45, is accused of cruising into an America Online chatroom called "Daughter is Developing," making contact with a woman he thought was a woman with a daughter to offer, then propositioning the woman for sex with the 14-year-old girl. Siegel was then arrested, Christmas gifts in hand, ready to consummate the act, according to the arrest warrant.
Siegel found out the mother of the girl was actually a St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office undercover detective.
Siegel has been unavailable for comment since his arrest. His Naples attorney, Donald Day, said he doesn't think Siegel did anything illegal. Day will pursue possible defenses after he gets copies of the discovery, which is the evidence the state will use to try to prove the case.
"I think they're going to have some problems with entrapment and some problems with whether a crime was even committed. His communications were with an undercover officer who represented she was a 30-year-old woman. She didn't represent herself to be a child. He was talking to a 30-year-old woman, so he didn't solicit a minor," Day said.
While Day wouldn't detail which defenses he will use, other legal experts can weigh in on what a successful defense could entail. The most serious charge against Siegel, attempted lewd and lascivious battery, could bring 15 years in state prison upon conviction. The lesser charge, solicitation to commit lewd and lascivious battery, is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.
"I would plead and plead quickly," said Bob Jarvis, law professor at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. "Siegel's best hope for getting his Bar license back is to admit it, say he made a terrible mistake and that he accepted responsibility, that he served his time and he's taken steps to prevent it from happening again."
The main defense could be police entrapment. Most commonly used in drug cases, it weighs whether the suspect was predisposed to commit the crime before his contact with law enforcement and what his intent was during the commission of the crime.
Lee Hollander, a Naples criminal defense attorney who worked for more than decade as a state prosecutor, wouldn't comment on the case against Siegel, his colleague. But as an experienced lawyer who has seen entrapment cases from both legal angles, he said an attorney will look at the conduct of the detective and of his client.
"Was my client predisposed to commit the crime? What evidence does the state or the government have to prove that? What conduct was there by the undercover officer? Did he violate my client's rights?" Hollander said.
The issue is case specific, Hollander said.
So Day will have to consider what St. Lucie County deputies said Siegel did before he showed up at that Chili's restaurant, about 200 miles from Naples.
According to the arrest warrant affidavit:
Using his AOL screen name registered to him, Stevenmark20, he logged into the "Daughter is Developing" chatroom on Dec. 14. The undercover detective was there because it's "frequented by adults who are interested in either trading child pornography via the Internet and/or communicating about having sexual relations with underage females."
At 2:32 p.m., Siegel sent the undercover deputy an instant message, after which the two chatted for about 45 minutes. Siegel bragged about being "baggage free," making a six-figure salary and living near the beach. He commented, "Plus think chat room topic is kinda sexy too."
During the ensuing conversation, Siegel commented how it would "be kinda cool to be a dad with developing daughter and open minded mom."
The deputy reminded Siegel the child was only 14. Siegel responded: "I understand perfectly. Like I said, I would want to take it slow anyways, one step at a time with mommy there to supervise and make her feel OK with it to demonstrate, etc."
Then the deputy asked Siegel to be specific about what he was interested in doing.
"The suspect answered, 'I'm very sensual so I like lots of kissing and touching, maybe show her what I like between you and me, then let her try. ... but start slowly, maybe let her sleep in bed with us, take naked hot tubs, etc., as we get to know each other, start with just using hands and watching'," the affidavit said.
Siegel later gave the detective his cellular phone number, which was registered to him. The deputy called, and "the suspect continued with his attempts to meet the mother of the 14-year-old female for the purposes of having a sexual encounter with the child. During this telephone call, which was recorded for evidentiary purposes, the suspect attempted to formulate a specific plan with the mother," according to the affidavit.
Siegel later offered to bring lingerie for the girl to wear. The detective insisted instead on perfume. Another undercover deputy posed as the 14-year-old girl during at least one of the phone calls, but it's not clear yet whether Siegel and the deputy talked about sex or if Siegel propositioned her. Then the agreement was made to meet in Port St. Lucie. He found the detective, not the mother, waiting for him.
"My life is over. Are you guys state or federal?" Siegel asked when the detective identified herself.
Some might ask why Siegel, a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who handles criminal and civil court cases, didn't smoke out the identity of the undercover deputy beforehand. But law enforcement officers can lie about their identity, even if asked directly if they are police officers.
The ordinary rules of entrapment don't change between real-world and Internet situations, Hollander said. If the suspect was there to commit the crime and intended to do so, and the detective was there only to provide the opportunity to do so, it's not entrapment, Hollander said.
By comparison, if an undercover cop asks for drugs from a guy standing on a street corner, and the guy says sure and sells him some, it's not entrapment, Hollander said.
But if an undercover informant pesters a particular drug dealer who constantly refuses despite the repeated offers, then gives up so the informant will leave him alone, that could be entrapment because it's the cop who's manufacturing a crime that wouldn't have otherwise been committed, Hollander said.
That's a question for a jury.
Jarvis, a former lawyer from New York, has worked at Nova since 1987, teaching Constitutional Law and Legal Ethics. He said simply knowing Siegel entered the "Daughter is Developing" chatroom could show jurors he had a predisposition to commit the crime.
The detective didn't mention the illegal conduct first, Siegel did, according to the affidavit. And the printed e-mails and Internet messages, as well as the cellular phone calls, could convince jurors Siegel wanted to commit the illegal act and intended to do so, depending on how lurid and overt Siegel's words were in describing what he wanted.
His showing up at the restaurant could be the clincher, Jarvis said.
"Entrapment always is a possible defense. But entrapment has been called a defense of the desperate, and it's one defense attorneys don't like to make," Jarvis said.
By arguing entrapment in court, the defendant waives the most powerful asset in his favor the presumption of innocence. A defendant doesn't have to take the stand or prove anything in his own defense and must have the prosecution prove the charges.
"Entrapment means 'We did it. We give up the presumption of innocence. We did the horrible thing the government says we did, but there's a reason why we did it'," Jarvis said. "But particularly in sexual predator cases, once you admit you are one and you say 'I'm a sexual predator but there's a really good reason why,' the jury has basically stopped listening to you."
But Day takes a contrary view. He points out the bulk of the conversations were with a woman. Siegel never propositioned an underage girl, Day said.
So no crime was committed if Siegel didn't solicit anyone for illegal activity.
"If you're talking as a fantasy, there's a split in the (appeals court) districts as to whether what you're talking about constitutes a crime. It makes a difference who he was talking to. He wasn't talking to a child. He was talking to an adult," Day said.
Day said he will have to research what kind of chatroom "Daughter is Developing" was. It may have been a place for underage girls to chat, something that could be troublesome for Siegel if he has to explain why he logged in there. But the chatroom could be for mothers of daughters going through puberty, for example, a perfectly legitimate chatroom that could be a magnet for guys who want to meet women, Day said.
So if Siegel was discussing sexual activity with the daughter only as a way to get to the mother, there's nothing illegal about that, Day said. You can't punish someone criminally for what's going on inside the person's mind.
But what he wrote and said may be a different matter.
The numerous e-mail, instant message and telephone conversations will hurt Siegel, Jarvis said. So will his statement to deputies after his arrest. Even though he insistently denied he intended to follow through with it, he told investigators having sexual relations with a child was a "dark fantasy," according to the affidavit.
"You put all these e-mails in front of a jury, and what do you say? What's your defense? What, you say 'this was just a dark fantasy' and you never intended to act on it? No one's going to believe that. He even said it when he was arrested: 'My life is over.' He knew he didn't have a defense for this," Jarvis said.
Collier County sheriff's Detective Cpl. Dan McDonald, whose job it is to scour the Internet for pedophiles and other illegal activities, said he doesn't bring up the topic of a sexual relationship with the suspect, he waits for the other person to do so. He sometimes surfs in chatrooms having nothing to do with children or sexuality, but the subject matter of the site doesn't matter. He will get numerous hits from suspects anyway.
"I'm just going into a chatroom talking about the weather, nature, butterflies, things like that," McDonald said. "You can go into any chatroom and talk about anything, and sooner or later the conversation will turn to sex."
Without commenting on the facts in Siegel's case, Hollander cited one of the same issues Day is looking at a state appeal court case, State vs. Duke, a 1998 decision from the 5th District Court of Appeal.
In that case, the court ruled that planning and preparation to commit an unlawful act, in that case attempted rape, aren't enough for a conviction. There was no victim present because it was an undercover sting, so there's nothing that clearly shows the suspect, Louis Duke, intended to commit the crime or committed an act overt enough to count as attempting to rape someone, in that case an undercover agent posing as a 12-year-old girl.
Even though the Duke decision came from a Florida appeal court in a jurisdiction different from St. Lucie County, it's still law that hasn't been overturned, Hollander said. So the question will become what Siegel intended to do and whether he made an act overt enough to constitute attempted lewd and lascivious battery. Are words exchanged with an adult and a drive to a restaurant enough to qualify as illegal activity?
Day said he doesn't think so.
Prosecutors will also have to show the e-mails and instant messages were from Siegel. The standard to do that is pretty low, unless Day chooses to challenge the authenticity of those exchanges.
McDonald of the Collier Sheriff's Office uses software that works like a movie, recording everything on the screen as it happens. That can be used in court, he said.
St. Lucie County deputies wouldn't comment on how they gathered their evidence, other than to say they have copies of what Siegel wrote and said.
Siegel, 1117 Milano Drive, was released from jail on $20,000 bond. He hasn't yet entered a plea and doesn't have an arraignment date, according to the St. Lucie County Clerk of Courts.