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News » Cover Story

If cybersquatter Robert Paisola is the future of the Internet, then we’re all in big trouble.



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“Is it essential to bring up the sex-offender issue and the historical relevance of that as to where I’m at now, past the 2-year mark [of leaving jail], moving forward, bringing change to the world?” Paisola asked.

“It’s part of your story,” I said.

“But do you get I’m not this creepy little guy, it’s not like that?”

“Yes,” I said.

I’m not sure why I said "yes." Having spent more than two hours with him, there had been moments, such as his constant mimicking of my body posture, that were oddly amusing in his less-than-subtle attempts to manipulate me.

But for all his attempts at denial or dismissal, for the harping on how his past has made him great, at the disturbing heart of Robert Paisola’s story arguably lies a series of horrific images involving children and his incessant efforts to squirm out of the moral sanction his ownership of them imposed on the rest of his life.

“Whenever I think of child porn, I think of a child being sexually molested,” Paisola said. “I have never seen anything, and you can talk to any investigator, anything that represented that in any of my cases. Nothing. Not one iota, not one picture that would be considered sexually deviant.”

In our interview, Paisola claimed the porn found on his computer in 1996 were images from a nudist group, included among 50,000 pictures a friend gave him on a software program.

Federal court documents reveal, however, that U.S. Customs investigators found images not only of naked prepubescent girls but also of children engaged in explicit sexual acts. Employees of his Internet service provider discovered the porn after learning Paisola had far exceeded his contractual space limits. They told investigators Paisola tried to delete the images. Court documents also show he acknowledged “he was aware that the photographs were there.”

All this seems to contradict a statement made in a press release Paisola’s publicist e-mailed me that his “unsecured computer” contained “images which were not viewed, used, passed along nor satisfied any concept of personal sexual fulfillment or deviation.”

I asked via e-mail if it’s appropriate for a man on the brink of 40, with a conviction for a child-sex offense, to have among his 47 “friends” on two MySpace pages—which states “I will tell no lies …”—nearly two dozen women in their early 20s in various states of undress.

“I have hundreds of friends and supporters and the belief that age is an issue with adult [sic] is uncanny,” he wrote back. “The sex-offense conviction was 10 years ago [almost eight years ago, according to court documents] and I have proven that is not who I am.”

But for a then-17-year-old girl who graduated in 2006 from Crandall High School in Texas, discovering last summer that the child-porn conviction of a man who was one of her MySpace “friends” was a whole eight years ago could hardly have seemed comforting.

A rural community southeast of Dallas, population 3,000, Crandall is a close-knit town, said the student’s high school coach, Brian Barnett.

Last summer, Phoenix investigator Brewington called Barnett to inform the school of a model student whom Paisola had listed as a MySpace friend. The school investigated Brewington’s claim, Barnett said, then called in the girl’s father and local police. Shortly after, the girl went with her parents to the police station.

“It was really creepy to go to that guy’s MySpace page, see his picture there, then go to the State of Utah sex offender list, read what he was accused and convicted of,” Barnett said. “It’s almost surreal it could be happening here.”

MySpace closed down Paisola’s page, Brewington said. But by the end of April 2007, he had two MySpace pages under the name of Moneytrainer. One featured a 17-year-old Utah girl listed among his ‘friends.’ Although MySpace did not respond to a call for comment, the pages were recently deleted.

However much Paisola downplays his porn conviction, it still follows him around. A Lehi detective arrested Paisola last September after finding discrepancies on his Utah Sex Offender Registry listing. At the end of a mid-April preliminary hearing, 4th District Court Judge Samuel McVey found probable cause against Paisola for two counts of failing to register. His arraignment is set for June 25.

In an e-mail, Paisola explained his arrest was based on the misspelling of his home address on the sex-offender site and his failure to register the second Lexus he’d purchased. What Paisola neglected to mention was that for more than a year, his home address on the state Website was the same as Western Capital’s principal offices—a UPS store mailbox in Draper.

At the end of our interview, Paisola called up his Website. He had announced our interview and the forthcoming story. Alongside my name, he'd put my home address. Trembling with rage at yet another attempt at bullying me with my own information, I asked him between clenched teeth to take it off.

“Would you like me to take it off?” he cooed, smiling up at me with his empty eyes. “You know that it is my honor to take it off.”

On his lips, the word honor seemed obscene. I ached to hit him. Instead, I held out my hand. He stared at it for a moment, then stood up, took it and held my elbow with his other hand. “I’m honored to meet your request, to do that for you,” he said.

“You shouldn’t have put it there in the first place,” I said, jerking my hand out of his grip.

“I didn’t know who you were, my friend.”

No one, he seemed to be saying, had the right to ask questions about Paisola, and certainly should not expect to walk away from such efforts unscathed. What he wanted me to understand, I realized, was the power he had to cyberstalk me before I’d written one word about him.

“Power?” he said with a half-smile. “I’m a tender, loving, caring, powerful guy. Yes, I am.”

He was right about one thing, I thought, as I stepped out of his makeshift lair into the sunlight. This was an interview I wouldn’t soon forget.