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Decorated former police captain coerced minors into webcam sex shows

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Michael Grennier, a retired police officer of South Plainfield, New Jersey, helped bring down a global hacker collective in the 1980s and is widely credited with ushering his colleagues into the Internet era. However, his talent for technology proved to be his undoing: yesterday, he admitted to authorities that he had enticed underage girls to perform explicit acts in return for clothes and money, watching and directing the action remotely by webcam.

Appearing in Trenton federal court, Grennier pleaded guilty to “production of child pornography,” a charge that has applied to other cases of webcam sexual abuse of late. Though the U.S. law invoked defines the crime as staging a minor in explicit ways with the intent to create “visual depictions of that conduct,” it’s unclear how someone simply live-streaming those images might be prosecuted. Grennier, however, amassed a collection of photographs and videos, and investigators discovered a trail of lewd chat and text messages.

The two-time “Officer of the Year” and former police captain, who eventually became a computer forensic specialist for his department, was working in a similar capacity for a private firm when arrested in February. According to an F.B.I. complaint filed at the time, he “paid a minor girl for years to engage in the sexual acts on the Internet” and “paid for pictures of the girl naked, and on one occasion gave her and a second victim $500 to engage in sex acts in a hotel room.” It also contends that Grennier himself had sex with his victims, though this does not appear to be part of his guilty plea. Regardless, he faces a maximum prison sentence of 30 years, and a minimum of 15.

For someone supposedly attuned to the finer details of cybercrime, Grennier left a stunning plethora of digital evidence in his wake. Between his skills and sterling reputation—he was even head of the local D.A.R.E. anti-drug program—did he feel confidently above suspicion? Could he have been so tech-savvy that it took decades for law enforcement to notice his predatory pattern? At least one NJ.com commenter doubted it, remarking that his career-making hacker case “sounds impressive until you find out that it was a couple of 15 and 16 year olds seeing what they could get away with, in the eighties, when the internet was new to most people.”

At the very least, it sounds like Grennier had a similar curiosity about him.

H/T The Star-Ledger | Photo by Greg Harrison/Flickr