By Kristen Kridel
Law enforcement agencies, which have been mining the Internet in search of child predators and terrorists, are expanding their efforts to include crimes such as drug dealing.
In what is believed to be the first case of its kind in this area, Punta Gorda authorities used a sting operation Tuesday to arrest a teen-ager who had boasted on the MySpace Web site of smoking marijuana. Police contacted him through the Web and set up a deal in which he allegedly agreed to sell 2 ounces of marijuana to undercover officers.
Law enforcement officers tracking down drug dealers on popular teen Internet sites still is fairly rare, said Rafael Lemaitre, spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Policy. But it's a tactic expected to gain popularity.
"The good news is that they are realizing that teens are getting taken advantage of in cyberspace," Lemaitre said. "We're pleased to see they're protecting people within that space as well."
Punta Gorda police were able to hunt David "Dae-Dae" Carroll, 17, of Port Charlotte, in cyberspace because the teen didn't try to hide his drug use. In fact, he broadcast the habit via the Internet.
"I do me and what I do best ... smoke marijuana duh ..." Carroll wrote on MySpace.com, a popular social networking Web site.
Punta Gorda police Detective Thomas Lewis said he realized how dangerous Web sites such as MySpace.com can be when he was looking at the sites his own children frequent.
"I checked it out to see what my own kids were doing," Lewis said. "When I saw what was on there, they were no longer allowed on it, and I started getting on there."
Lewis needed several months and his children's help to learn to navigate MySpace.com, he said. He began the investigation into Carroll's involvement with drugs Dec. 4.
To find the Port Charlotte student's page, he entered phrases such as "Punta Gorda" and "marijuana" into the MySpace search engine, he said.
On Wednesday, 32 pages boasted both phrases. Seventy-six had "weed" and "Punta Gorda" on them.
Lewis said the police department has several ongoing investigations making use of the site.
When a page says the MySpace member uses or sells drugs, the police make contact to see if they will go through with a deal.
The teen agreed to sell 2 ounces for $400 at the Shell gas station, 3035 Tamiami Trail, according to the arrest report. When police stopped the car Carroll was riding in, the teen had the 2 ounces sitting on his lap in a plastic baggy.
Another baggy with nearly 3 ounces also was found in the car.
"I just couldn't believe how much marijuana he brought," Lewis said.
Both Carroll and his 17-year-old cousin, Amanda Stephenson, were arrested on felony charges of possessing more than 20 grams of marijuana and possessing marijuana with intent to distribute. Carroll has been released on bail; information about Stephenson was not available.
Carroll's mother, Pam Carroll, said she felt the police entrapped her son. After the arrest, she read the messages between her son and the officer saved on Carroll's computer.
The teen told the officer "no" at first, she said, but the officer kept increasing his offer.
"If he wouldn't have kept on and on about the money he might have never done it," she said. "It was like he was bribing him."
Pam Carroll said she never before viewed her son's MySpace page, which touts the results of an Internet quiz entitled "What type of weed is best for U?" and a picture of him allegedly "stoned like always."
Although Pam Carroll said she knew her son used drugs, she never thought he would sell them on the Internet or be approached by a police officer there.
"I can understand if my son would have come to him, but he didn't," Pam Carroll said. "The cop came to him. Why him?"
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Fla. police use MySpace to set up drug sting