HARRISBURG -- An aide to a McCandless state senator known for her tough stance on sex crimes was arrested late Thursday on accusations he propositioned a 15-year-old over the Internet.
In a series of instant messages and online chats, Alan David Berlin, 40, of Carlisle, discussed dressing up in animal costumes and engaging in various sex acts with the boy, the state attorney general's office said yesterday.
His boss, state Sen. Jane Orie, said she was "shocked and appalled" Thursday when she learned of the charges and immediately suspended Mr. Berlin without pay or benefits. She fired him yesterday.
According to the criminal complaint, Mr. Berlin proposed traveling to the boy's home in Harrisburg, about 20 miles from Carlisle, and having sex in the backyard and in a shed on his parents' property. He also allegedly offered to arrange a meeting in a hotel room so Mr. Berlin could take photos of the boy and another adult having sex.
The online communication took place on seven different days between April 27 and May 25, according to the criminal complaint. Investigators say some of the messages originated from a Senate computer.
Investigators believe Mr. Berlin and the boy met on an Internet site for "furries," an online community of people who adopt half-animal, half-human personas.
In one message, according to the complaint, Mr. Berlin requested pictures of the boy and wrote, "When will your folks be out?"
Other messages describe various sex acts in explicit detail and refer to "yiffing," which is a "furry" term for having sex.
Mr. Berlin used the screen name "alan_panda_bear" in his messages. He also used that name for an online personal ad that depicts cartoonish panda bears, one wearing a diaper.
"I'm a Daddyfur and Caretaker and I am looking for a babyfur to be my mate and my companion in a long-term committed relationship," the ad says. "I am a hopeless romantic and very affectionate, freely giving hugs, scritches, cuddles and kisses."
According to the ad, he wanted someone 20 to 25, who has a car and would call him Daddy.
The victim and Mr. Berlin had planned to meet Tuesday night near the boy's house, but Mr. Berlin never showed up, said Nils Fredricksen, spokesman for Attorney General Tom Corbett.
Mr. Berlin had worked for the state Senate since 1993, most recently as a $57,000-a-year aide to Ms. Orie, who has been the force behind efforts to strengthen the state's sexual predator laws. One proposal called for repeat offenders to wear tracking devices after they had completed their sentences.
Mr. Berlin didn't work on crime legislation, but dealt with grants and budgetary issues, said Mike Sarfert, the senator's chief counsel.
Mr. Sarfert said investigators confiscated a hard drive from the Capitol office.
The investigation began Tuesday after the boy's parents discovered the computer messages and contacted the Attorney General's Child Predator Unit.
"These parents did the right thing," Mr. Fredriksen said. "They monitored their kids' activity and when they saw something they were concerned about they didn't hesitate to pick up the phone. Forty-eight hours later [Mr. Berlin] was in handcuffs."
Investigators are looking at the contents of hard drives on Mr. Berlin's home and work computers. Additional charges are possible, Mr. Frederiksen said.
There are no indications other children were involved, he said.
Mr. Berlin is charged with unlawful contact with a minor related to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, a first-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. He also is charged with three second-degree felonies and two third-degree felonies.
He was arraigned yesterday before Harrisburg District Justice George A. Zozos and placed in Dauphin County Jail in lieu of $250,000 bail.
A search of Pennsylvania criminal records turned up no prior arrests.
Mr. Corbett asked parents to monitor children's Internet use, particularly in the coming months.
"Predators know that more young people will be online during the summer and many will be home alone for long periods of time, so it is important for parents to take steps now to be certain their kids are prepared and protected," he said. "Internet safety is something that should be regularly discussed by every family ... because predators are online every day looking for kids who are lonely or vulnerable."
To report information about potential Internet predators, call 1-800-385-1044 or use the "Report a Predator" link on the attorney general's Web page, www.attorneygeneral.gov.
Tracie Mauriello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-787-2141.