Phone Taps Allowed in Undercover Sex Stings

Looking for sex online is risky behavior that often leads to serious legal consequences.  In yet another recent sex offense case involving undercover cops, a Darcy Dean Racus took a very hard fall. The case relied upon phone taps.  His conviction for Attempted Rape of a Child in the First Degree and Communicating with a Minor for Immoral Purposes was upheld by the appellate court.  He is now serving a very long prison sentence.

Racus challenged his conviction by alleging a violation of privacy involving his emails and texts with the undercover detective.  The issue was whether those communications provided “probable cause” for allowance of Racus’s phone calls to be recorded. 

The detective put out a “Casual Encounters” ad, posing as a female parent searching for others to have sexual contact with her children. The “parent” indicated she was “open to presents”. The detective testified at trial that “presents” was a term commonly used on Craigslist to infer money for sex.   

Racus responded to the detective’s ad the same day it was posted. The email and text exchanges were clearly sexual. The Appellate Court held Racus implicitly consented that these transmissions could be saved.

Early communications demonstrated Racus was interested in sex, although he sought the age of the participants by stating they “really need to be of legal age. A person can go to jail over that”. Racus would reinitiate contact after not hearing from the fictitious parent. Repeatedly. Expressing “commercial” concerns: “Is this free? Or are you looking for something.” He asked to meet. The “parent” wanted to know who he wanted to “orally please”. Racus replied either the “older [daughter] or you”. Based on this, the undercover detective obtained an “intercept authorization warrant” from his supervisor. The Washington Privacy Act allows law enforcement to record telephone conversations without a judge’s review.

Racus was sent a picture of a young girl, based on his request. The young girl, “Lisa”, had braces, which Racus made sexually oriented remarks about. Racus coordinated the meeting with the parent. She asked him to bring a bag of Skittles because the 11-year-old liked them. When Racus showed up (with the Skittles) he was promptly arrested.

Online chats and e-mails are often not protected communications in criminal cases.  The Appellate Court held Racus did not have an expectation of privacy regarding his emails and texts sent to the parent.  The court ruled the undercover detective had probable cause to believe there would be “commercial exploitation of a minor for a fee” when Racus went to meet “Lisa” (all fictitious of course).

This is another example that “Casual Encounters” ads are likely undercover stings.  It never ceases to amaze me that people continue to fall for these traps.