TV show homage leads to conviction

Prosecutors say an accused online predator who accepted a plea deal Thursday was brought to justice thanks to a local teenager who conducted his own sting operation in 2006.

The man’s defense attorney, however, claims his client became the victim of entrapment after trying to find a date with an adult woman over the Internet.

The unusual case revolves around50-year-old construction project manager James John Koch, of Pacifica, who placed a personal ad on Craigslist</a> in June 2006.

An 18-year-old man from San Mateo County contacted Koch, claiming to be a 15-year-old girl. The teen, whose name has not been released, was inspired by the “Dateline NBC” segment “To Catch a Predator,” prosecutors said. The popular hidden camera show is devoted to catching potential sexual abusers who arrange liaisons with underage decoys over the Internet.

“He followed the model of the TV show. He put a fish on the hook,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.

Koch took the bait, admits his defense attorney Henry Wykowski. But to paint him as a predator is far from the truth, he said.

“I think it’s an unfortunate situation that somebody took it upon themselves to lure him into this,” Wykowski said. “There was absolutely no evidence he had ever engaged in this type of conduct before or after and the investigating officers admitted so much.”

Furthermore, Wykowski said, Koch specified in his ad, “You must be 18. Craigslist requires it and so do I.”

When Koch allegedly began engaging in sexual talk, the young man called the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, Wagstaffe said.

Sheriff’s investigators took over the case, exchanging messages with Koch over the next month and accepting pornographic images from him, according to prosecutors.

When Koch allegedly set up a liaison, sheriff’s deputies arrested him.

On Thursday, Koch pleaded no contest to one felony count of attempting to send harmful matter to a minor by e-mail in exchange for prosecutors dropping an additional felony charge of attempted lewd act on a child. Koch would have faced up to four years in state prison if convicted on both counts.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, he will face no more than a year in the county jail. Whether he will have to register as a sex offender will be up to San Mateo Superior Court Judge Clifford Cretan at Koch’s June 19 sentencing.

He remains free on $75,000 bail.

tbarak@examiner.com

Bay Area NewsLocal

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

The charismatic Adarsh Gourav, left, and Priyanka Chopra Jonas star in “The White Tiger,” Ramin Bahrani’s adaptation of the novel by Aravind Adiga.<ins> (Courtesy Netflix)</ins>
‘White Tiger’ takes in-depth look at India’s caste system

‘Identifying Features’ depicts human effects of Mexico’s drug wars

A health care worker receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. (Go Nakamura/Getty Images/TNS)
City sets ambitious goal to vaccinate residents by June

Limited supply slows distribution of doses as health officials seek to expand access

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden and Jill Biden arrive at Biden's inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021, in Washington, DC.  (Win McNamee/Getty Images/TNS)
Joe Biden issues call for ‘unity’ amidst extreme partisan rancor

‘I will be a president for all Americans,’ he says in inauguration speech

MARIETTA, GA - NOVEMBER 15: Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Jon Ossoff (R) and Raphael Warnock (L) of Georgia taps elbows during a rally for supporters on November 15, 2020 in Marietta, Georgia. Both become senators Wednesday.  (Jenny Jarvie/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Vice President Harris swears in senators Padilla, Warnock, Ossoff

New Democratic senators tip balance of power in upper legislative house

President Joe Biden plans to sign a number of executive orders over the next week. (Biden Transition/CNP/Zuma Press/TNS)
Biden signals new direction by signing mask order on his first day in office

President plans ambitious 10-day push of executive orders, legislation

Most Read