|TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that a Morristown man who already was a registered sex offender was convicted at trial today of exposing himself using a webcam to an undercover detective he believed was a 13-year-old girl.
Thomas W. Phillips, 34, of Morristown, was found guilty by a Morris County jury of third-degree charges of attempting to endanger the welfare of a child and attempting to transmit obscene materials to a person under 18 years old. The verdict of guilty on all counts followed a one-week trial before Superior Court Judge Robert J. Gilson in Morristown. Deputy Attorneys General Lilianne Daniel and Naju Lathia tried the case for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau.
The state presented testimony and evidence that on Feb. 24, 2010, Phillips exposed his genitals online via a webcam to an undercover detective from the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office in New Jersey who was posing as a 13-year-old girl. Phillips lay on his bed completely naked and exposed himself three times to the person he believed was an underage girl during a 17-minute instant message chat. Phillips, who used a screen name incorporating the phrase “bigyouknowwhat,” initiated the online conversation with the detective, who used a screen name containing a girl’s name and “13.” The detective assumed the persona of a girl and informed Phillips “she” was 13. After exposing himself, Phillips apologized, messaging that he knew it was illegal because she was “too young.” Nonetheless, he repeated the conduct, saying in his instant messages that the camera accidentally moved.
When he committed the crime, Phillips was on probation from a prior conviction for a similar incident in 2006 in which he was caught in an online law enforcement sting. Phillips was sentenced in Bergen County on Sept. 21, 2007 to three years of probation on a charge of attempted criminal sexual contact for instructing an undercover police detective who was posing as an underage girl to touch herself sexually. Phillips is a member of the U.S. Merchant Marine.
“Every parent fears that their young child will encounter a sexual predator like Phillips online and be exposed to his deviant behavior,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “Phillips is a two-time perpetrator of this type of crime, and with this verdict, we will be seeking the maximum prison sentence available.”
“We work closely with partners at all levels of law enforcement to apprehend sexual predators like Phillips who stalk young children online,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Working together and using undercover operations such as this one, we are putting sex offenders behind bars and making the Internet safer.”
“This case should serve as a strong warning to those who believe they can use the cloak of cyberspace to remain undetected while preying on children,” said Burlington County Prosecutor Robert D. Bernardi. “Law enforcement officers are on patrol in your world and are committed to protecting the vulnerable population you seek to exploit for perverted pleasure.”
Third-degree crimes carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a criminal fine of up to $15,000. Judge Gilson scheduled sentencing for Phillips for Aug. 22.
Detective Sgt. David Kohler of the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office and Detective Edward Mitreuter of the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office were the lead detectives. They were assisted by other members of the multi-agency New Jersey Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force. Deputy Attorney General Marie McGovern presented the case to the state grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice. Detective Sgt. Timothy P. Gerity of the Saddle River Police Department provided valuable assistance by testifying about the prior offense committed by Phillips in Bergen County.