By Jo-Anne MacKenzie
SALEM — A man who told police he was trying to catch sexual predators is sitting in county jail.
The self-styled, one-man sex crimes task force first posed as a teenage girl online, then pretended to be a federal agent when a man responded to his invitation to meet in a parking lot Feb. 12, authorities said.
John Ruth, 48, of Haverhill, Mass., turned himself in at the police station Wednesday on an arrest warrant issued in February, according to Deputy police Chief Shawn Patten.
Ruth, pretending to be a 16-year-old girl, solicited a 25-year-old man, also from Haverhill, to meet him in a parking lot at 15 Ermer Road, Patten said. When the man took the bait and showed up at about 5 p.m. Feb. 12, Ruth blocked the younger man's car in with his vehicle, preventing him from leaving once he saw his online friend was really a middle-aged man.
Ruth then told the man he was a federal agent, working with a sex crimes task force. He frisked the man, and took his car keys and money clip while he allegedly verified his identification, Patten said.
Finally, Ruth returned the man's possessions and told him he could leave. But after leaving, the 25-year-old discovered $146 was missing from his money clip and reported the incident to police.
Police issued an arrest warrant for Ruth then, but never found him to take him into custody.
He is charged with two felonies — unarmed robbery and false impersonation, for pretending to be a federal agent. He's also charged with one count of false imprisonment for preventing the younger man from leaving the parking lot.
He was arraigned in 10th Circuit Court Wednesday and has been in the county jail since, for lack of $20,000 cash bail.
The man who answered the online invitation was not charged, but police hope he learned something from the experience.
"What do you charge him with? It wasn't a 16-year-old girl, there was no victim," Patten said. "Hopefully, this has been a valuable learning lesson for him and he won't engage in this type of behavior again."
- And yet vigilante groups like Perverted-Justice and others are basically doing pretty much the same thing, and they are getting a way with it, even praised by some. Why aren't they arrested for harassment and other crimes? They are not cops, and should not be doing the police's job!
After his arrest, Ruth told detectives he had been going online to catch sexual predators, Patten said, adding that's not a good idea.
"What he's doing is dangerous, not only to the other person, but also to himself," Patten said. "Judging by our discussions, it wasn't the first time he's done this. It's going to be a bad day for him if he shows up and the other person is armed."
Police have trained investigators working to catch sexual predators, Patten pointed out, and they do so in a professional manner that leads to prosecution. Citizens have no place acting as law enforcement officers.
- Unlike the other vigilante groups out there.
Ruth may have tried similar ruses in his home state.
"We have been in contact with Massachusetts State Police because they believe he engaged in similar activities there," Patten said of Ruth.
While police do receive reports of people impersonating law enforcement officers, he said, this crime is unusual.
And, he added, it's unusual that the 25-year-old victim called police.
"It would appear to be the perfect crime," Patten said. "Anybody actively engaging in a crime, who then is a victim of a crime, usually won't report it."
- So which is it? Above you said it wasn't a crime, no victim was involved, yet here you call it a crime? Make up your mind!