Graven Images

A respected preacher gets busted for child pornography on his computer. Has he delved into the worst of cyberspace depravity or just the stuff of scholarly research?

So the case depends almost completely on getting Carlson's hard drive, and the photos on it, into evidence. If that happens, Androphy and Berg could argue that the photos were sent unsolicited to Carlson because he was in the chat rooms doing research. Even with a courtroom filled with character witnesses, though, it might be difficult to convince a jury to issue a verdict of not guilty after they see pictures of "minor male children engaged in explicit sex acts with adults," as government documents describe the evidence.

So the pretrial wrangling is focused on the search warrant. And that means the wrangling is focused on Harry Conners.

Harry Conners started the investigation.
Harry Conners started the investigation.
Carlson got "bombarded" with child pornography, says his attorney Geoffrey Berg.
Carlson got "bombarded" with child pornography, says his attorney Geoffrey Berg.

In a video taken during a two-day deposition earlier this year, the 57-year-old Conners acts and talks just like you'd expect a second-generation NYPD cop to act and talk: A short bulldog of a guy, he's gruff and confident. It's what he's saying that's unusual.

During his high school days, Conners realized he was gay. His parents "freaked," he says, and sent him to a psychiatrist.

That didn't last long, because Conners wasn't too tormented. "You know," he says, the psychiatrist "just talked to me about it and wanted to make sure that I was comfortable with it, and I was."

He spent some time in the Army Reserve, then decided to follow his father onto the force.

He quit after five months. "I was very, very uncomfortable in that job.I was really afraid that, you know, I was going to be caught in a gay bar, which would have cost me my job, would have embarrassed my father, although he knew.They were raiding bars. There was a lot of entrapment going on."

Since then, he's had a series of bookkeeping-type jobs, making a middle-class salary. He lives, though, in a multimillion-dollar flat on Fifth Avenue in Greenwich Village, as a platonic roommate with a male anesthesiologist.

Conners says he has mentored gay kids he met hanging around Washington Square Park, in some cases taking them home to live with him for months at a time. While there is no sexual contact, he insists -- the only time there was, the guy was not a minor -- the youths can hang in a room in his house that features a wet bar and several computers. (He lets them drink beer, Conners says; he takes the Fifth Amendment when asked if he lets them smoke dope.)

Computers came to play a huge part in Conners's life. By his own admission, he became addicted to on-line chatting. "There was a period of time where every waking moment that I wasn't working, I was in the chat room or online," he testified in the deposition.

A lot of that on-line chat was about sports, but some of it was spent in chat rooms with names like "M4MBarelyLegal," where many of the chatters claimed to be teens.

"Some of them would pretend to be 14, 15. I never believed that for a second," Conners says. It was "a bunch of older guys pretending to be younger guys." Conners did likewise. Among the pseudonyms he used was "Rarkins," whose profile showed he was 17, whose hobbies were "drinking and smoking pot while my balls get sucked," and whose "personal quote" was "Do me."

"It was a game," he testified.

In September 1997 he had a chat with "JakeFL980," who claimed to be 16. The two talked of guys they might have sex with:

"Who else are you going to suck?" Jake asked.

"Maybe a kid from school that I j/o [masturbate] with," Conners replied under a pseudonym.

The action gets hot and heavy, as a porn site no doubt would say, with the two correspondents describing how they're currently masturbating.

"Wish I could see you while you jerk it," Jake writes.

"I want 2 rub your ass and suck u off," Conners replies to the erstwhile teen, "and hold your ass in my hands and have you face-fuck me."

The conversation ends with Conners going, "AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH" and Jake replying, "uuuuuuuuuuuuggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhh," which demonstrates at least the ability to multitask, if they were doing what they claimed they were doing. (Conners says he wasn't doing anything but typing; he also says he later tape-recorded a phone conversation with Jake "and he's clearly an adult.")

Conners continued to haunt the chat rooms, and says he eventually hooked up with someone named "Gymkidd16." Conners didn't save a transcript of their chat or e-mails, but he says sometime in October 1997 Gymkidd sent him a photo that included a boy who "was shockingly young," maybe ten years old. Gymkidd was a pseudonym Carlson used, the government says.

Conners says he contacted the San Antonio Police Department, because Gymkidd's profile indicated he was from that area. He also called the FBI.

"I called these people because I didn't want to be in a position where I could become a defendant because I was -- had in my hard drive these pictures," he says.

The case went to the Customs Service, which has jurisdiction over child-pornography investigations.

Customs Agent Nadia Smith worked with Conners in New York; Conners said she told him to troll for more pictures -- he couldn't ask for them, but simply say something like "I liked those pictures you sent." For five weeks, he says, Smith came over to his apartment once a week and downloaded pictures and information she believed could result in a prosecution.

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