A Howard County man whose court challenge prompted Maryland to broaden its sex-offender law pleaded guilty yesterday to a federal charge of traveling across state lines to have sex with a minor.
Richard Joseph Moore had been convicted of similar charges in Frederick County Circuit Court in 2002. He appealed, arguing that state law required a real victim; he had been chatting on the Internet with a sheriff's deputy posing as an underage girl.
State legislators -- acting before the court issued its ruling -- changed the state law in 2004 to specifically allow for such law enforcement sting operations.
In September of last year, Maryland Court of Appeals overturned Moore's conviction, saying that the old state statute was improper because the "victim" in the case was no victim at all. The 2004 change in the law did not affect his case.
Federal prosecutors intervened last fall, and a grand jury indicted Moore in October 2005 on new charges of "traveling in interstate commerce" for the purpose of trying to have sex with a 14-year-old girl.
Sober and alone, Moore, 39, of Elkridge, appeared in U.S. District Court in Baltimore yesterday afternoon, admitting that he thought he had arranged a meeting for sex in July 2002. Instead, court papers said, Moore had been corresponding online with a Frederick County deputy sheriff.
When Moore showed up for the rendezvous at an apartment in Frederick, members of the Maryland Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force arrested him.
Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said his office stepped in because "the case involved a defendant who deserves to be convicted."
Unlike the old Maryland law, federal statute allows prosecutors to charge a defendant who intended to violate the law, even if the victim was an undercover officer. Maryland's statutes had been less clear on the issue, saying only that it is a crime to arrange for sex with a minor over the Internet.
Rosenstein rejected the idea that Moore was being prosecuted for the same crime twice, saying, "There are separate federal and state systems of justice, and that's a fortunate thing."
Moore and his attorney, Christine Boco Gage-Cohen, declined to comment on the case after the hearing yesterday before District Judge Benson E. Legg.
May 12 sentencing
When he is sentenced May 12, Moore could face a maximum term of 15 years in prison followed by three years of probation.
The investigation started when Deputy Michael J. Sabol with the Frederick County Sheriff's Office signed on to the Yahoo chat channel "Romance/Maryland," court papers said. He posed as a 14-year-old girl using the screen name "sherrygirl882001."
When Sabol said "she" was 14, Moore, using the name "runner10k," wrote back: "I could go to jail if we got caught, it would be considered rape, they consider you a minor and that you would have been manipulated by me," according to court papers.
On July 12, 2002, when Moore again chatted with "sherrygirl 882001" about planning a sexual encounter, Sabol told Moore to meet "her" at the apartment in Frederick, prosecutors said.
Later that day, Moore showed up and was arrested by task force members. Moore admitted he had come from work in Northern Virginia to have sex with the girl, court papers said.