Disney exec arrested in underage online sex sweep

Sting nets Infoseek's Naughton

NEW YORK — The executive who oversees Walt Disney Co.’s Go Network of Internet sites was arrested after soliciting sex online from an FBI agent posing as a 13-year-old girl, a spokesman for federal prosecutors said Sunday.

Patrick Naughton, 34, of Seattle, was arrested Thursday on the Santa Monica Pier, an entertainment area near Los Angeles, after he met a female officer who had arranged to meet him there, said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.

He was charged with interstate travel with the intention of having sex with a minor, the spokesman said. Naughton was arraigned Friday and released after posting a $100,000 appearance.

“Naughton contacted a young-looking law-enforcement officer who he thought to be a 13-year-old girl he had been talking to on the Internet,” Mrozek said.

On March 8, Naughton started posting lewd messages under the name “HotSeattle” in an Internet chat room to a male FBI agent posing as a 13-year-old-girl, the government spokesman said, citing court documents.

The criminal complaint naming Naughton lists at least six online exchanges leading up to the planned meeting, with the last correspondence taking place Sept. 16, the day he was arrested. The online meetings took place on Internet Relay Chat (IRC), a service that lets users join Internet chat rooms and communicate via keyboard, often under assumed names.

Naughton, a Disney veteran formerly with its Starwave Web development operations, carried the official title of executive vice president, products, at Infoseek Corp. Infoseek is the Internet media site at the core of Disney’s Go Network.

He could not be reached for comment at home in Seattle. Spokesmen for Disney, Buena Vista Internet Group, Disney’s online arm, and Infoseek, were not immediately available to comment.

An Infoseek manager who declined to be named said the company had fired Naughton in the wake of his arrest.

Disney is in the process of combining its diverse Internet holdings under a single company known as Go.com, which would include its Disney Store, ESPN.com and ABCNews.com with Infoseek’s Web search engine and other Internet functions.

Disney Online is the No. 1 most visited site among kids and their families on the Internet, according to July statistics from Web market research firm Media Metrix.

Mrozek said the Internet executive was swept up in an investigation by a southern California multi-agency task force known as Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement (SAFE), which is conducting undercover sting operations on the Internet.

Norton’s arrest comes just days after Disney launched pages on its British, French and German Web sites to warn children against talking too freely to strangers on the Internet.

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