Through His Webcam, a Boy Joins
a Sordid Online World
By KURT EICHENWALD
December 19, 2005
The New York Times
The 13-year-old boy sat in his California home, eyes fixed on a computer
screen. He had never run with the popular crowd and long ago had turned
to the Internet for the friends he craved. But on this day, Justin Berry's
fascination with cyberspace would change his life.
Weeks before, Justin had hooked up a Web camera to his computer, hoping
to use it to meet other teenagers online. Instead, he heard only from
men who chatted with him by instant message as they watched his image
on the Internet. To Justin, they seemed just like friends, ready with
compliments and always offering gifts.
Now, on an afternoon in 2000, one member of his audience sent a proposal:
he would pay Justin $50 to sit bare-chested in front of his Webcam for
three minutes. The man explained that Justin could receive the money instantly
and helped him open an account on PayPal.com, an online payment system.
"I figured, I took off my shirt at the pool for nothing," he
said recently. "So, I was kind of like, what's the difference?"
Justin removed his T-shirt. The men watching him oozed compliments.
So began the secret life of a teenager who was lured into selling images
of his body on the Internet over the course of five years. From the seduction
that began that day, this soccer-playing honor roll student was drawn
into performing in front of the Webcam - undressing, showering, masturbating
and even having sex - for an audience of more than 1,500 people who paid
him, over the years, hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Justin's dark coming-of-age story is a collateral effect of recent technological
advances. Minors, often under the online tutelage of adults, are opening
for-pay pornography sites featuring their own images sent onto the Internet
by inexpensive Webcams. And they perform from the privacy of home, while
parents are nearby, beyond their children's closed bedroom doors.
The business has created youthful Internet pornography stars - with nicknames
like Riotboyy, Miss Honey and Gigglez - whose images are traded online
long after their sites have vanished. In this world, adolescents announce
schedules of their next masturbation for customers who pay fees for the
performance or monthly subscription charges. Eager customers can even
buy "private shows," in which teenagers sexually perform while
following real-time instructions.
A six-month investigation by The New York Times into this corner of the
Internet found that such sites had emerged largely without attracting
the attention of law enforcement or youth protection organizations. While
experts with these groups said they had witnessed a recent deluge of illicit,
self-generated Webcam images, they had not known of the evolution of sites
where minors sold images of themselves for money.
"We've been aware of the use of the Webcam and its potential use
by exploiters," said Ernest E. Allen, chief executive of the National
Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a private group. "But
this is a variation on a theme that we haven't seen. It's unbelievable."
Minors who run these sites find their anonymity amusing, joking that
their customers may be the only adults who know of their activities. It
is, in the words of one teenage site operator, the "Webcam Matrix,"
a reference to the movie in which a computerized world exists without
the knowledge of most of humanity.
In this virtual universe, adults hunt for minors on legitimate sites
used by Webcam owners who post contact information in hopes of attracting
friends. If children respond to messages, adults spend time "grooming"
them - with praise, attention and gifts - before seeking to persuade them
to film themselves pornographically.
The lure is the prospect of easy money. Many teenagers solicit "donations,"
request gifts through sites like Amazon.com or negotiate payments, while
a smaller number charge monthly fees. But there are other beneficiaries,
including businesses, some witting and some unwitting, that provide services
to the sites like Web hosting and payment processing.
Not all victims profit, with some children ending up as pornographic
commodities inadvertently, even unknowingly. Adolescents have appeared
naked on their Webcams as a joke, or as presents for boyfriends or girlfriends,
only to have their images posted on for-pay pornography sites. One Web
site proclaims that it features 140,000 images of "adolescents in
cute panties exposing themselves on their teen Webcams."
Entry into this side of cyberspace is simplicity itself. Webcams cost
as little as $20, and the number of them being used has mushroomed to
15 million, according to IDC, an industry consulting group. At the same
time, instant messaging programs have become ubiquitous, and high-speed
connections, allowing for rapid image transmission, are common.
The scale of Webcam child pornography is unknown, because it is new and
extremely secretive. One online portal that advertises for-pay Webcam
sites, many of them pornographic, lists at least 585 sites created by
teenagers, internal site records show. At one computer bulletin board
for adults attracted to adolescents, a review of postings over the course
of a week revealed Webcam image postings of at least 98 minors.
The Times inquiry has already resulted in a large-scale criminal investigation.
In June, The Times located Justin Berry, then 18. In interviews, Justin
revealed the existence of a group of more than 1,500 men who paid for
his online images, as well as evidence that other identifiable children
as young as 13 were being actively exploited.
In a series of meetings, The Times persuaded Justin to abandon his business
and, to protect other children at risk, assisted him in contacting the
Justice Department. Arrests and indictments of adults he identified as
pornography producers and traffickers began in September. Investigators
are also focusing on businesses, including credit card processors that
have aided illegal sites. Anyone who has created, distributed, marketed,
possessed or paid to view such pornography is open to a criminal charge.
"The fact that we are getting so many potential targets, people
who knowingly bought into a child pornographic Web site, could lead to
hundreds of other subjects and potentially save hundreds of other kids
that we are not aware of yet," said Monique Winkis, a special agent
with the Federal Bureau of Investigation who is working the case.
Law enforcement officials also said that, with the cooperation of Justin,
they had obtained a rare guide into this secluded online world whose story
illuminates the exploitation that takes place there.
"I didn't want these people to hurt any more kids," Justin
said recently of his decision to become a federal witness. "I didn't
want anyone else to live the life I lived."
A High-Tech Transformation
Not long ago, the distribution of child pornography in America was a
smallish trade, relegated to back rooms and corners where even the proprietors
of X-rated bookstores refused to loiter.
By the mid-1980's, however, technology had transformed the business,
with pedophiles going online to communicate anonymously and post images
through rudimentary bulletin board systems. As Internet use boomed in
the 1990's, these adults honed their computer skills, finding advanced
ways to meet online and swap illegal photos; images once hard to obtain
were suddenly available with the click of a mouse.
As the decade drew to a close, according to experts and records of online
conversations, these adults began openly fantasizing of the day they would
be able to reach out to children directly, through instant messaging and
live video, to obtain the pornography they desired.
Their dream was realized with the Web camera, which transformed online
pornography the way the automobile changed transportation. At first, the
cameras, some priced at more than $100, offered little more than grainy
snapshots, "refreshed" a few times per minute. But it was not
long before easy-to-use $20 Webcams could transmit high-quality continuous
color video across the globe instantly.
By 2000, things had worked out exactly the way the pedophiles hoped.
Webcams were the rage among computer-savvy minors, creating a bountiful
selection of potential targets.
Among them was Justin Berry. That year, he was a gangly 13-year-old with
saucer eyes and brown hair that he often dyed blond. He lived with his
mother, stepfather and younger sister in Bakersfield, Calif., a midsize
city about 90 miles north of Los Angeles. Already he was so adept at the
computer that he had registered his own small Web site development business,
which he ran from the desk where he did his schoolwork.
So Justin was fascinated when a friend showed off the free Webcam he
had received for joining Earthlink, an Internet service provider. The
device was simple and elegant. As Justin remembers it, he quickly signed
up, too, eager for his own Webcam.
"I didn't really have a lot of friends," he recalled, "and
I thought having a Webcam might help me make some new ones online, maybe
even meet some girls my age."
As soon as Justin hooked the camera to his bedroom computer and loaded
the software, his picture was automatically posted on spotlife.com, an
Internet directory of Webcam users, along with his contact information.
Then he waited to hear from other teenagers.
No one Justin's age ever contacted him from that listing. But within
minutes he heard from his first online predator. That man was soon followed
by another, then another.
Justin remembers his earliest communications with these men as nonthreatening,
pleasant encounters. There were some oddities - men who pretended to be
teenage girls, only to slip up and reveal the truth later - but Justin
enjoyed his online community.
His new friends were generous. One explained how to put together a "wish
list" on Amazon.com, where Justin could ask for anything, including
computer equipment, toys, music CD's or movies. Anyone who knew his wish-list
name - Justin Camboy - could buy him a gift. Amazon delivered the presents
without revealing his address to the buyers.
The men also filled an emotional void in Justin's life. His relationship
with his father, Knute Berry, was troubled. His parents divorced when
he was young; afterward, police records show, there were instances of
reported abuse. On one occasion Mr. Berry was arrested and charged with
slamming Justin's head into a wall, causing an injury that required seven
staples in his scalp. Although Justin testified against him, Mr. Berry
said the injury was an accident and was acquitted. He declined to comment
in a telephone interview.
The emotional turmoil left Justin longing for paternal affection, family
members said. And the adult males he met online offered just that. "They
complimented me all the time," Justin said. "They told me I
was smart, they told me I was handsome."
In that, experts said, the eighth-grade boy's experience reflected the
standard methods used by predatory adults to insinuate themselves into
the lives of minors they meet online.
"In these cases, there are problems in their own lives that make
them predisposed to" manipulation by adults, Lawrence Likar, a former
F.B.I. supervisor, said of children persuaded to pose for pornography.
"The predators know that and are able to tap into these problems
and offer what appear to be solutions."
Justin's mother, Karen Page, said she sensed nothing out of the ordinary.
Her son seemed to be just a boy talented with computers who enjoyed speaking
to friends online. The Webcam, as she saw it, was just another device
that would improve her son's computer skills, and maybe even help him
on his Web site development business.
"Everything I ever heard was that children should be exposed to
computers and given every opportunity to learn from them," Ms. Page
said in an interview.
She never guessed that one of her son's first lessons after turning on
his Webcam was that adults would eagerly pay him just to disrobe a little.
The Instant Audience
It was as if the news shot around the Web. By appearing on camera bare-chested,
Justin sent an important message: here was a boy who would do things for
Gradually the requests became bolder, the cash offers larger: More than
$100 for Justin to pose in his underwear. Even more if the boxers came
down. The latest request was always just slightly beyond the last, so
that each new step never struck him as considerably different. How could
adults be so organized at manipulating young people with Webcams?
Unknown to Justin, they honed their persuasive skills by discussing strategy
online, sharing advice on how to induce their young targets to go further
at each stage.
Moreover, these adults are often people adept at manipulating teenagers.
In its investigation, The Times obtained the names and credit card information
for the 1,500 people who paid Justin to perform on camera, and analyzed
the backgrounds of 300 of them nationwide. A majority of the sample consisted
of doctors and lawyers, businessmen and teachers, many of whom work with
children on a daily basis.
Not long ago, adults sexually attracted to children were largely isolated
from one another. But the Internet has created a virtual community where
they can readily communicate and reinforce their feelings, experts said.
Indeed, the messages they send among themselves provide not only self-justification,
but also often blame minors with Webcam sites for offering temptation.
"These kids are the ones being manipulative," wrote an adult
who called himself Upandc in a posting this year to a bulletin board for
adults attracted to children.
Or, as an adult who called himself DLW wrote: "Did a sexual predator
MAKE them make a site? No. Did they decide to do it for themselves? Yes."
Tempting as it may be for some in society to hold the adolescent Webcam
operators responsible, experts in the field say that is misguided, because
it fails to recognize the control that adults exercise over highly impressionable
"The world will want to blame the kids, but the reality is, they
are victims here," said Mr. Allen of the National Center for Missing
and Exploited Children.
But there is no doubt that the minors cash in on their own exploitation.
With Justin, for example, the road to cyberporn stardom was paved with
cool new equipment. When his growing legion of fans complained about the
quality of his Webcam, he put top-rated cameras and computer gear on his
Amazon wish list, and his fans rushed to buy him all of it.
A $35 Asante four-port hub, which allowed for the use of multiple cameras,
was bought by someone calling himself Wesley Taylor, Amazon receipts show.
For $45, a fan nicknamed tuckertheboy bought a Viking memory upgrade to
speed up Justin's broadcast. And then there were cameras - a $60 color
Webcam by Hawking Technologies from banjo000; a $60 Intel Deluxe USB camera
from boyking12; and a $150 Hewlett-Packard camera from eplayernine.
Justin's desk became a high-tech playhouse. To avoid suspicions, he hid
the Webcams behind his desk until nighttime. Whenever his mother asked
about his new technology and money, Justin told her they were fruits of
his Web site development business. In a way, it was true; with one fan's
help, he had by then opened his own pornographic Web site, called justinscam.com.
His mother saw little evidence of a boy in trouble. Justin's grades stayed
good - mostly A's and B's, although his school attendance declined as
he faked illness to spend time with his Webcam.
As he grew familiar with the online underground, Justin learned he was
not alone in the business. Other teenagers were doing the same things,
taking advantage of an Internet infrastructure of support that was perfectly
suited to illicit business.
As a result, while it helped to have Justin's computer skills, even minors
who fumbled with technology could operate successful pornography businesses.
Yahoo, America Online and MSN were starting to offer free instant message
services that contained embedded ability to transmit video, with no expertise
required. The programs were offered online, without parental controls.
No telltale credit card numbers or other identifying information was necessary.
In minutes, any adolescent could have a video and text system up and running,
without anyone knowing, a fact that concerns some law enforcement officials.
There were also credit card processing services that handled payments
without requiring tax identification numbers. There were companies that
helped stream live video onto the Internet - including one in Indiana
that offered the service at no charge if the company president could watch
free. And there were sites - portals, in the Web vernacular - that took
paid advertising from teenage Webcam addresses and allowed fans to vote
for their favorites.
Teenagers, hungry for praise, compete for rankings on the portals as
desperately as contestants on TV reality shows, offering special performances
in exchange for votes. "Everyone please vote me a 10 on my cam site,"
a girl nicknamed Thunderrockracin told her subscribers in 2002, "and
I will have a live sleep cam!"
In other words, she would let members watch her sleep if they boosted
her up the rankings.
Fearing the Fans
Justin began to feel he belonged to something important, a broad community
of teenagers with their own businesses. Some he knew by their real names,
others by the screen names they used for their sites - Strider, Stoner,
Kitty, Calvin, Emily, Seth and so on. But collectively, they were known
by a name now commonplace in this Internet subculture:
They call themselves "camwhores."
Justin chatted with the boys online, and sometimes persuaded the girls
to masturbate on camera while he did the same. Often, he heard himself
compared to Riotboyy, another young-looking teenager whose site had experienced
as many as 6,400 hits in a single week.
In conversations with Justin, other minors with for-pay sites admitted
to being scared of certain fans. Some adults wrote things like "It
wants to possess you." They had special wardrobe requests for the
adolescents: in jeans with a belt, without a belt, with a lacy bra, showing
legs, showing feet, wearing boxers with an erection, and others.
One 16-year-old who called himself hot boyy 23 finally found the entreaties
too much. "Hey guys," he wrote when he shut down his site, "I'm
sorry, there are just too many freaks out there for me. I need to live
a more normal life, too. I might be back someday and I might not. I'm
sorry I had to ruin all the fun."
It was not only the minors operating Webcam sites for pay who faced frightening
adults. Earlier this year, a teenage girl in Alabama posed seminude on
her Webcam in a sexually charged conversation with someone she thought
was another teenage girl. But her new confidant, it turned out, was an
adult named Julio Bardales from Napa, Calif., law enforcement officials
said. And when the girl stopped complying, she received an e-mail message
from Mr. Bardales containing a montage of her images. Across them was
a threat in red letters that the images would be revealed unless she showed
a frontal nude shot over the Webcam. Mr. Bardales was subsequently arrested.
The police said he possessed images of more under-age girls on Webcams,
including other montages with the same threat.
Justin says that he did not fully understand the dangers his fans posed,
and before he turned 14, he was first lured from the relative safety of
his home. A man he met online hosted Justin's Web site from Ann Arbor,
Mich., and invited him there to attend a computer camp. Justin's mother
allowed him to go, thinking the camp sounded worthwhile.
Another time, the man enticed Justin to Michigan by promising to arrange
for him to have sex with a girl. Both times, Justin said, the man molested
him. Transcripts of their subsequent conversations online support the
accusations, and a video viewed by The Times shows that the man, who appears
for a short time in the recording, also taped pornography of Justin.
From then on, Justin's personality took on a harder edge, evident in
the numerous instant messages he made available to The Times. He became
an aggressive negotiator of prices for his performances. Emboldened by
a growing contempt for his audience, he would sometimes leave their questions
unanswered for hours, just to prove to himself that they would wait for
"These people had no lives," Justin said. "They would
never get mad."
Unnerved by menacing messages from a fan of his first site, Justin opened
a new one called jfwy.com, an online acronym that loosely translates into
"just messing with you." This time, following an idea suggested
by one of his fans, he charged subscribers $45 a month. In addition, he
could command large individual payments for private shows, sometimes $300
for an hourlong performance.
"What's in the hour?" inquired a subscriber named Gran0Stan
in one typical exchange in 2002. "What do you do?"
"I'll do everything, if you know what I mean," Justin replied.
Gran0Stan was eager to watch, and said the price was fine. "When?"
"Tonight," Justin said. "After my mom goes to sleep."
As his obsession with the business grew, Justin became a ferocious competitor.
When another under-age site operator called Strider ranked higher on a
popular portal, Justin sent him anonymous e-mail messages, threatening
to pass along images from Strider's site to the boy's father. The site
"I was vicious," Justin said. "But I guess I really did
Strider a favor. Looking back, I wish someone had done that to me."
By then, fans had begun offering Justin cash to meet. Gilo Tunno, a former
Intel employee, gave him thousands of dollars to visit him in a Las Vegas
hotel, according to financial records and other documents. There, Justin
said, Mr. Tunno began a series of molestings. At least one assault was
videotaped and the recording e-mailed to Justin, who has since turned
it over to the F.B.I.
Mr. Tunno played another critical role in Justin's business, the records
show. When he was 15, Justin worried that his mother might discover what
he was doing. So he asked Mr. Tunno to sign an apartment lease for him
and pay rent. Justin promised to raise money to pay a share. "I'll
whore," he explained in a message to Mr. Tunno.
Mr. Tunno agreed, signing a lease for $410 a month for an apartment just
down the street from Justin's house. From then on, Justin would tell his
mother he was visiting friends, then head to the apartment for his next
performance. Mr. Tunno, who remains under investigation in the case, is
serving an eight-year federal sentence on an unrelated sexual abuse charge
involving a child and could not be reached for comment.
The rental symbolized a problem that Justin had not foreseen: his adult
fans would do almost anything to ensure that his performances continued.
At its worst, they would stand between him and the people in his offline
life whom they saw as a threat to his Webcam appearances.
For example, when a girlfriend of Justin's tried to convince him to shut
down his site in December 2002, a customer heaped scorn on her.
"She actually gets mad at you for buying her things with the money
you make from the cam?" messaged the customer, a man using the nickname
Angelaa. "Just try and remember, Justin, that she may not love you,
but most of us in your chat room, your friends, love you very much."
A Life Falls Apart
In early 2003, Justin's offline life began to unravel. A former classmate
found pornographic videos on the Internet from Justin's Web site, made
copies and handed them out around town, including to students at his school.
Justin was taunted and beaten.
Feeling embarrassed and unable to continue at school, Justin begged his
mother to allow him to be home-schooled through an online program. Knowing
he was having trouble with classmates, but in the dark about the reasons
why, she agreed.
Then, in February, came another traumatic event. Justin had begun speaking
with his father, hoping to repair their relationship. But that month,
Mr. Berry, who had been charged with insurance fraud related to massage
clinics he ran, disappeared without a word.
Despairing, Justin turned to his online fans. "My dad left. I guess
he doesn't love me," he wrote. "Why did I let him back in my
life? Let me die, just let me die."
His father did not disappear for long. Soon, Mr. Berry called his son
from Mazatlán, Mexico; Justin begged to join him, and his father
In Mexico, Justin freely spent his cash, leading his father to ask where
the money had come from. Justin said that he confessed the details of
his lucrative Webcam business, and that the reunion soon became a collaboration.
Justin created a new Web site, calling it mexicofriends, his most ambitious
ever. It featured Justin having live sex with prostitutes. During some
of Justin's sexual encounters, a traffic tracker on his site showed hundreds
watching. It rapidly became a wildly popular Webcam pornography site,
making Justin one of the Internet's most sought after under-age pornography
For this site, Justin, then 16, used a pricing model favored by legitimate
businesses. For standard subscribers, the cost was $35, billed monthly.
But discounts were available for three-month, six-month and annual memberships.
Justin used the cash to support a growing cocaine and marijuana habit.
Money from the business, Justin said, was shared with his father, an
accusation supported by transcripts of their later instant message conversations.
In exchange, Justin told prosecutors and The Times, his father helped
procure prostitutes. One video obtained by the F.B.I. shows Mr. Berry
sitting with Justin as the camera is turned on, then making the bed before
a prostitute arrives to engage in intercourse with his teenage son. Asked
about Justin's accusations, Mr. Berry said, "Obviously, I am not
going to comment on anything."
In the fall of 2003, Justin's life took a new turn when a subscriber
named Greg Mitchel, a 36-year-old fast food restaurant manager from Dublin,
Va., struck up an online friendship with the boy and soon asked to visit
him. Seeing a chance to generate cash, Justin agreed.
Mr. Mitchel arrived that October, and while in Mexico, molested Justin
for what would be the first of many times, according to transcripts of
their conversations and other evidence. Mr. Mitchel, who is in jail awaiting
trial on six child pornography charges stemming from this case, could
not be reached for comment.
Over the following year, Justin tried repeatedly to break free of this
life. He roamed the United States. He contemplated suicide. For a time
he sought solace in a return to his boyhood Christianity. At one point
he dismantled his site, loading it instead with Biblical teachings - and
taking delight in knowing the surprise his subscribers would experience
when they logged on to watch him have sex.
But his drug craving, and the need for money to satisfy it, was always
there. Soon, Mr. Mitchel beckoned, urging Justin to return to pornography
and offering to be his business partner. With Mr. Mitchel, records and
interviews show, Justin created a new Web site, justinsfriends.com, featuring
performances by him and other boys he helped recruit. But as videos featuring
other minors appeared on his site, Justin felt torn, knowing that these
adolescents were on the path that had hurt him so badly.
Justin was now 18, a legal adult. He had crossed the line from under-age
victim to adult perpetrator.
A Look Behind the Secrecy
In June, Justin began communicating online with someone who had never
messaged him before. The conversations involved many questions, and Justin
feared his new contact might be an F.B.I. agent. Still, when a meeting
was suggested, Justin agreed. He says part of him hoped he would be arrested,
putting an end to the life he was leading.
They met in Los Angeles, and Justin learned that the man was this reporter,
who wanted to discuss the world of Webcam pornography with him. After
some hesitation, Justin agreed. At one point, asked what he wanted to
accomplish in his life, Justin pondered for a moment and replied that
he wanted to make his mother and grandmother proud of him.
The next day, Justin began showing the inner workings of his online world.
Using a laptop computer, he signed on to the Internet and was quickly
bombarded with messages from men urging him to turn on his Webcam and
One man described, without prompting, what he remembered seeing of Justin's
genitals during a show. Another asked Justin to recount the furthest distance
he had ever ejaculated. Still another offered an unsolicited description
of the sexual acts he would perform on Justin if they met.
"This guy is really a pervert," Justin said. "He kind
of scares me."
As the sexual pleadings continued, Justin's hands trembled. His pale
face dampened with perspiration. For a moment he tried to seem tough,
but the protective facade did not last. He turned off the computer without
a final word to his online audience.
In the days that followed, Justin agreed in discussions with this reporter
to abandon the drugs and his pornography business. He cut himself off
from his illicit life. He destroyed his cellphone, stopped using his online
screen name and fled to a part of the country where no one would find
As he sobered up, Justin disclosed more of what he knew about the Webcam
world; within a week, he revealed the names and locations of children
who were being actively molested or exploited by adults with Webcam sites.
After confirming his revelations, The Times urged him to give his information
to prosecutors, and he agreed.
Justin contacted Steven M. Ryan, a former federal prosecutor and partner
with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips in Washington. Mr. Ryan had learned
of Justin's story during an interview with The Times about a related legal
question, and offered to represent him.
On July 14, Mr. Ryan contacted the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section
of the Justice Department, informing prosecutors that he had a client
with evidence that could implicate potentially hundreds of people. By
then, Mr. Ryan had learned that some of Justin's old associates, disturbed
by his disappearance, were hunting for him and had begun removing records
from the Internet. Mr. Ryan informed prosecutors of the dangers to Justin
and the potential destruction of evidence. Two weeks passed with little
Finally, in late July, Justin met in Washington with the F.B.I. and prosecutors.
He identified children who he believed were in the hands of adult predators.
He listed the marketers, credit card processors and others who supported
Webcam child pornography. He also described the voluminous documentary
evidence he had retained on his hard drives: financial information, conversation
transcripts with his members, and other records. But that evidence would
not be turned over, Mr. Ryan said, until Justin received immunity.
The meeting ended, followed by weeks of silence. Word came back that
prosecutors were wrestling with Justin's dual role as a victim and a perpetrator.
Justin told associates that he was willing to plead guilty if the government
would save the children he had identified; Mr. Ryan dissuaded him.
By September, almost 50 days had passed since the first contact with
the government, with no visible progress. Frustrated, Mr. Ryan informed
prosecutors that he would have to go elsewhere, and contacted the California
That proved unnecessary. Prodded by the F.B.I. and others in the Justice
Department, on Sept. 7, prosecutors informed Mr. Ryan that his client
would be granted immunity. A little more than four weeks after his 19th
birthday, Justin became a federal witness.
A Final Online Confrontation
Five days later, on the third floor of a lakeside house in Dublin, Va.,
Greg Mitchel - Justin's 38-year-old business partner on his pornography
Web site - rested on his bed as he chatted online with others in his illicit
Ever since Justin's disappearance weeks before, things had been tense
for Mr. Mitchel. Some in the business already suspected that Justin might
be talking to law enforcement. One associate had already declared to Mr.
Mitchel that, if Justin was revealing their secrets, he would kill the
But this night, Sept. 12, the news on Mr. Mitchel's computer screen
was particularly disquieting. An associate in Tennessee sent word that
the F.B.I. had just raided a Los Angeles computer server used by an affiliated
Webcam site. Then, to Mr. Mitchel's surprise, Justin himself appeared
online under a new screen name and sent a greeting.
Mr. Mitchel pleaded with Justin to come out of hiding, inviting the
teenager on an all-expense-paid trip to Las Vegas with him and a 15-year-old
boy also involved in Webcam pornography. But Justin demurred.
"You act like you're in witness protection," Mr. Mitchel typed.
"Haha," Justin replied. Did Mr. Mitchel think he would be
on the Internet if he was a federal witness? he asked. Justin changed
the subject, later asking the whereabouts of others who lived with Mr.
Mitchel, including two adolescents; Mr. Mitchel replied that everyone
was home that night.
In a location in the Southwest, Justin glanced from his computer screen
to a speakerphone. On the line was a team of F.B.I. agents who at that
moment were pulling several cars into Mr. Mitchel's driveway, preparing
to arrest him.
"The kids are in the house!" Justin shouted into the phone,
answering a question posed by one of the agents.
As agents approached the house, Justin knew he had little time left.
He decided to confront the man who had hurt him for so long.
"Do you even remember how many times you stuck your hand down my
pants?" he typed.
Mr. Mitchel responded that many bad things had happened, but he wanted
to regain Justin's trust.
"You molested me," Justin replied. "Don't apologize for
what you can't admit."
There was no response. "Peekaboo?" Justin typed.
On the screen, a message appeared that Mr. Mitchel had signed off. The
arrest was over.
Justin thrust his hands into the air. "Yes!" he shouted.
In the weeks since the first arrest, F.B.I. agents and prosecutors have
focused on numerous other potential defendants. For example, Tim Richards,
identified by Justin as a marketer and principal of justinsfriends.com,
was arrested in Nashville last month and arraigned on child pornography
charges. According to law enforcement officials, Mr. Richards was stopped
in a moving van in his driveway, accompanied by a young teenage boy featured
by Mr. Richards on his own Webcam site. Mr. Richards has pleaded not guilty.
Hundreds of thousands of computer files, including e-mail containing
a vast array of illegal images sent among adults, have been seized from
around the country. Information about Justin's members has been downloaded
by the F.B.I. from Neova.net, the company that processed the credit cards;
Neova and its owner, Aaron Brown, are targets of the investigation, according
to court records and government officials. And Justin has begun assisting
agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who hope to use his evidence
to bring new charges against an imprisoned child rapist.
Justin himself has found a measure of control over his life. He revealed
the details of his secret life to his family, telling them of all the
times in the past that he had lied to them. He has sought counseling,
kept off drugs, resumed his connection with his church and plans to attend
college beginning in January.
In recent weeks, Justin returned to his mother's home in California,
fearing that - once his story was public - he might not be able to do
so easily. On their final day together, Justin's mother drove him to the
airport. Hugging him as they said goodbye, she said that the son she once
knew had finally returned.
Then, as tears welled in her eyes, Justin's mother told him that she
and his grandmother were proud of him.
Interview with Justin Berry
An Easy Path to Trouble
The Customers: Where the Credit Card Trail Leads (December 19, 2005)
The History: A Shadowy Trade Migrates to the Web (December 19, 2005)
Reporter's Essay: Making a Connection With Justin (December 19, 2005)
Documenting a Crime That Thrives on Anonymity (December 19, 2005)