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Executive, Prostitute Get Prison Terms for Selling Computer Porn

November 4, 1995

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ A business executive and a crack-addicted prostitute who led him to end his fourth marriage are going to prison for selling child pornography by computer from Mexico.

Prosecutors hailed the case as the first in which the operators of a foreign-based computer bulletin board were prosecuted in the United States for distributing child pornography.

But they also warned that it illustrated how easily computerized smut was reaching child molesters who are on line.

Robert A. Copella, former vice president of research and development at Rand McNally Corp., was sentenced in federal court Friday to 5 1/2 years in prison. Pamela J. Kneeland received an 18-month sentence.

Copella told U.S. District Judge John Bissell that he got Kneeland off drugs and helped start the bulletin board to give her a livelihood off the streets.

``I tried to help her out and it didn’t work out the way either of us wanted to,″ he said. ``I made a terrible mistake. I chose the wrong path.″

Prosecutors and Kneeland’s lawyer painted a far different picture, asserting that Copella took advantage of a woman who was socially and physically immature.

``Mr. Copella’s motive was pure greed,″ said Assistant U.S. Attorney Donna Krappa.

Kneeland’s lawyer, Cathy Waldor, called Copella’s assertion that he helped Kneeland ``despicable.″

The judge largely agreed, branding Copella as ``warped″ and guilty of ``grossly unacceptable conduct.″

``She was ripe for the picking by a manipulator,″ the judge said. ``Although an active and knowing participant to a degree, Ms. Kneeland is a victim.″

Sobbing as she addressed the judge, Kneeland apologized ``for everything that caused me to do this.″

``I just want to go home to my family,″ said Kneeland, the mother of a 6-year-old boy.

Copella and Kneeland met on a Chicago street in April 1993.

He was 49, the father of three and an internationally recognized expert in security devices for airline tickets and baggage. She was 24, addicted to crack, and had been arrested about 35 times the year before for soliciting.

They moved in together. Prosecutors say they soon began distributing child pornography on a computer bulletin board from a phone line billed to Copella’s address in Northbrook, Ill.

The U.S. Customs Service and the U.S. Attorney’s office began tracking Copella when a Customs agent in Newark learned about the Illinois operation in March 1993.

It’s not clear when Copella’s fourth marriage ended or when he severed ties with Rand McNally.

Copella and Kneeland moved to Mexico in 1994, reopening their child porn bulletin board by offering callers ``nastier pictures.″ They operated for about six months before Copella was arrested in San Diego in September 1994 after an 18-month investigation.

Kneeland’s devotion hastened her own arrest within two weeks of his outside the federal courthouse in San Diego, where a hearing for Copella was scheduled.

Each pleaded guilty on Feb. 14 to a single count of transporting child pornography.

Possession or transmission of pictures, in any form, of children engaging in sexual activity is a federal offense.

Authorities have not disclosed how much money the operation generated. Rates ranged from $10 for five days of downloading and browsing, to $250 for a year’s access, said Special Agent Phillip Padlo of the Customs Service.

Copella and Kneeland, who have been jailed since their arrests, will get credit for time served.

Krappa told the judge that Kneeland was not the only victim in the case.

``Child pornography is used as a lure by pedophiles″ to make youngsters comfortable with the idea of performing sex acts, she said.

Also, the children who have been photographed having sex or in sadistic situations often become consumed with dread that others will see the pictures.

``This isn’t a victimless crime,″ Krappa said. ``These children suffer.″

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