Cybercreep

If all it took was rage, Jaemi Levine would single-handedly nail the guy who molested her teenaged daughter

Waqas Rehman, a slender, 29-year-old Pakistani man, was moments away from an anticipated sexual rendezvous. He cruised slowly through a Coral Springs Borders bookstore parking lot behind the wheel of a black Mitsubishi Eclipse. With a scraggly goatee and bags under his eyes, Rehman wasn't much to look at, but then, he didn't usually rely on his looks to snare the teenaged girls he desired. His gift, if one can call it that, was an instinctive ability to fabricate personas on the Internet, charming façades that could melt the defenses of unwary young girls and manipulate their emotions. That's how authorities describe him, at least.

Now, on a Thursday morning in early September 2004, this alleged Humbert Humbert of cyberspace was supposed to meet a 17-year-old named Jess. But this time, when the trap was sprung, it was Rehman himself who was the prey.

The e-mailer who had responded so provocatively to Rehman's messages turned out to be not an adventurous high school girl eager to meet cute boys but a burly Coral Springs detective. The cop quickly collared Rehman and slapped the handcuffs on him.

Waqas Rehman after he was arrested.
Waqas Rehman after he was arrested.
Jaemi Levine's charging-bull style has kept the heat on sluggish law enforcement authorities.
Colby Katz
Jaemi Levine's charging-bull style has kept the heat on sluggish law enforcement authorities.
Stephanie got an instant message from somebody named "Michael": "Hi looking for a friend wanna chat."
Colby Katz
Stephanie got an instant message from somebody named "Michael": "Hi looking for a friend wanna chat."
Colby Katz
"I understood that I didn't have to worry about him being on the street again -- period," Levine says.
Colby Katz
"I understood that I didn't have to worry about him being on the street again -- period," Levine says.

Police had been waiting a month for this moment, ever since Rehman allegedly lured a 12-year-old Coral Springs girl into an assignation. Rehman found himself charged with molesting a minor, whom he had allegedly enticed with e-mail messages. The alleged felony had been in connection with another Internet seduction, another parking lot assignation, but with a girl who was even more vulnerable than his would-be target when he was arrested. Police say Rehman had persuaded the 12-year-old to meet him on August 7, 2004, then brought her to a nearby apartment and sexually assaulted her.

It was the proverbial open-and-shut case, police suggested. Rehman made a detailed confession, according to detectives. He was sent to a Broward Sheriff's Office jail cell to await formal charges by the Broward State Attorney's Office.

In a situation that, for the victim and the victim's family, offers almost nothing in the way of a bright side, the girl's family could at least claim a measure of satisfaction in the man's arrest. With the knowledge that the alleged perpetrator was locked up, facing significant punishment in the criminal justice system, and unable to abuse other girls, the 12-year-old and her parents could begin to try to piece their lives back together.

"My expectations were that, just like the detective had told me, that he'd be held, tried, and sentenced," says Jaemi Levine, the girl's mother.

But the charges never came. Week after week, Rehman sat in jail with no bill of particulars from the State Attorney's Office.

Because prosecutors didn't act, Rehman's public defender could file a motion for his client's release. He had been held in jail more than the statutory period of 40 days, and the judge agreed to let Rehman go without bail.

The Pakistani's last visitor in jail on November 1, the day he was released, was an agent from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That agency of the Department of Homeland Security had already filed an immigration detainer on Rehman after his arrest, a process used by the feds to tag accused criminals for future federal action. But without formal charges being filed, the detainer was dropped. The agent simply served him with a notice to appear later at a routine immigration hearing for overstaying his visa. He would receive, in other words, the same perfunctory treatment as would any of the other estimated 13 million illegal foreigners in the United States.

Rehman, an illegal alien and accused molester, walked out of jail that evening with only his conscience as bail. A day later, prosecutors finally filed charges, like an injured motorist strapping on a seat belt after a collision. But Rehman had disappeared.

He hasn't been seen since.


The case of Waqas Rehman sounds like one of those startling, apocryphal tales told by get-tough-on-crime types hoping to stir up public sentiment and catch the eye of demagogic legislators. But no hyperbole has been necessary to shock children's-rights advocates.

The investigation, which was inspired not by dogged police work but by the victim's older sister (it was she who cleverly entrapped the suspect), was followed by a lackluster prosecution effort and a fatal ignorance on the part of local authorities of federal immigration procedure, critics say.

For the victim and her family, it was a masterstroke of poor timing.

The prosecutor assigned to the case had announced his resignation just about the time he was handed the case, and his boss apparently bobbled the handoff to another assistant attorney general. In addition, the office failed to ascertain the federal government's role in the case, basing its actions on assumptions that were flatly wrong. The federal "detainer" that local authorities assumed would somehow keep Rehman in place was worthless in the absence of formal charges against its target.

Even after prosecutors charged Rehman, there was no apparent sense of urgency in declaring that he was a clear flight risk.

At the heart of this case of bureaucratic and investigative bungling, however, are a wounded young girl and her very angry mother, who for months has hounded prosecutors, elected officials, bureaucrats, private investigators, police, and news reporters about the case.

"Bill Kamal gets a five-year sentence -- and he didn't even touch a kid," Levine says ruefully of the WSVN-TV (Channel 7) weather forecaster, who was arrested last year in a child-molestation sting operation. "And this guy gets to just go free!"

Through sheer force of personality, Levine has peeled back the layers of bureaucracy surrounding the Rehman case and relentlessly made noise to keep the hunt for Rehman alive. Her charging-bull style has become an embarrassment for those who'd just as soon forget the whole debacle. She ruffles feathers.

"Don't get me wrong on this," says one person who's helped Levine. "Jaemi Levine is a sweetheart of a woman, but she is a pain in the ass." Indeed, a conversation with Levine at times can lapse into a combination of Spanish Inquisition and conspiracy-theory free-for-all. For her, the missteps in the case are too numerous to chalk up as coincidence.

Driving her is a pugnacious protectiveness for her daughter. In fact, a barrage of phone calls she made to her tardy daughter during her episode with Rehman inadvertently spooked him, perhaps saving the girl from a worse fate.

Levine is short with a stocky build, longish brunet hair, and brown eyes that often seem on the verge of tears. She'd probably be a chain smoker if she could light up inside the family's Coral Springs home, but she limits the habit to outdoors. She's a stay-at-home mom, and the house is a magnet for kids on the block.

It's a typical family home by today's standards, a 21st-century Brady Bunch -- but with five kids, four cats, and a beagle but without the Bradys' cheery housemaid. Divorced with three children, Levine last fall married Mitch Levine, her high school sweetheart, a laconic man with wispy blond hair and a fondness for overweight cats. An owner of a Jaguar repair shop, he has a 22-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter.

Jaemi's oldest, 17-year-old Jackie, a curly haired blond with a flair for the dramatic, recently moved to the Gainesville area to live with family friends. Her 11-year-old son, who inherited his mother's eyes, is inquisitive, friendly, and full of boyish optimism: He recently found a broken-legged grackle chick and fed it with an eyedropper until its untimely demise.


But this story is about Levine's middle child, Stephanie. (At the family's request, New Times has given her a pseudonym. The family did not allow her to be interviewed on the advice of her therapist.) Stephanie has long, straight, brunet hair and an oval face. Like her mother, she possesses a compact build, which shows signs of nascent puberty. "She is still a little girl," sister Jackie says. "She plays with toys. She likes puppies. She's silly. And she's in band." To stress her point, Jackie exclaims, "She plays a brass instrument!"

Sometime last year, Stephanie posted her profile on America Online's People Connection, a site that has no overt age restrictions for users. Her personal information, however, was typical of a "'tween," an age span when the siren call of adolescence beckons but the playthings of childhood hold sway. Her interests? "Soccer, hangin out wit friends, dancing, chillyn at the movies." Her sign-on name refers to her love of puppies.

Stephanie and two of her friends also posted several pictures of themselves taken at a backyard pool. Stephanie was dressed in a modest yellow bikini, and the pictures were not -- in an adult sense, anyhow -- erotic.

It is in this vast network of naive, even childlike postings that sexual predators troll. Each site provides an instant-message address, and messages sent that way pop up immediately on the recipient's computer screen.

"They post these things for their friends," Levine says. "Some guy who's a pedophile who wants 12- to 14-year-olds in Coral Springs, he can go on there and get a laundry list of victims. They know what they're doing. They're skilled at instant-messaging people until they find a weak link. My daughter was a weak link."


Jaemi Levine says she knew something was wrong not long after Stephanie had left the house the morning of August 7, 2004. The girl had pleaded with her mother to let her walk to a nearby Barnes & Noble bookstore to meet a friend. Levine was working on invitations for her October wedding, and none of the older kids was available to go with her.

"Usually, they have to go together on the buddy system," Levine explains. "I'm very protective. It was 10 o'clock in the morning on a Saturday. I didn't think there was any reason she couldn't go around the block and be safe. I made her take a cell phone with her. I gave her a time limit."

But when her curfew passed, Levine called her. "She sounded funny," she recalls. "Definitely uncomfortable." Stephanie told her mother she was walking home. With the same forcefulness she'd show in the months to come, Levine got in her car to find her, but she wasn't at the location she'd described. Levine called again. "She kept telling me, I'm here, no I'm here. She'd say, 'No, you've got that wrong. I'm on this block.' I was getting frightened. I had a very bad gut-mom feeling."

She found her walking on a sidewalk not far from the bookstore. As she boarded the car, Stephanie appeared "shaken, upset, not at all like herself." Still more frightened than angry, Levine says she popped a "typical mom" question: Who were you talking to?

"I was talking to a 23-year-old guy," Stephanie replied weakly. "He had a foreign accent, and he wanted directions."

Levine's mood swung from fear to anger. "How many times have we talked about talking to strangers?" she shouted. "Why would you do something like that?"

"I learned my lesson," Stephanie mumbled.

"What is that?"

"I learned never to talk to older people on the computer," her daughter replied. The seeming non sequitur ended the conversation, but it left Levine disquieted about the time her daughter had been spending on the computer.

The next day, while Stephanie was at a friend's birthday party, Levine asked Jackie if she could get access to any of Stephanie's online messages. It was a mother's hunch, but what Jackie found confirmed her fears.

About three weeks earlier, Stephanie had received an instant message from a man named Michael, with the simple note: "Hi looking for a friend wanna chat." Michael's profile page was about as generic as could be, describing his hobbies and interests as "movies, football, dining out and many more." Perhaps more enticing for a young girl was his personal credo: "Don't let any one run ur life cuz it's urs and u should be the one to make things happen."

Jackie recollects reading the evolution of the messages Stephanie and Michael exchanged during the following weeks. It began generally. "She talked about what she was doing with her friends," Jackie says. "He said he worked at a perfume factory, and he'd tell her about that. They'd talk about each other's pictures."

He tried to keep the discussion centered on Stephanie. "He didn't really give that much information about himself," Jackie says. "It seemed like he was trying to find out where she lived, what specific area."

The subject of meeting came up within three or four exchanges, and Michael's messages quickly evolved into "lovey-dovey" missives, Jackie says. For example: "Don't worry about anything. I care about you. I can't wait until we see each other. Why can't we see each other now?" Jackie adds: "They were saying how much they loved each other, stuff like that."

Shortly before they were to meet, Stephanie confessed to him that she'd lied earlier about being 15; she was younger than that, she wrote. "That's okay," he responded. "I really care about you."

On the morning of August 4, a Wednesday, Stephanie walked over to the Barnes & Noble to meet Michael. Her mother was running errands and wasn't even aware that her daughter had left the house. Stephanie got into Michael's black Mitsubishi Eclipse, which had dark-tinted windows, and he drove to the back of the parking lot. The two kissed, and he caressed her as she sat on his lap. He apparently became aggressive enough that she got out of the car after a few minutes and walked back home.

The meeting left her somewhat shaken, enough so that in a subsequent message, she asked pointedly, "Are you a rapist?" Jaemi Levine recalls reading Michael's response: "He went on and on telling her how he was hurt that she didn't trust him." He quickly quelled her doubts by manipulating her: "I thought you were my friend. How can you think something like that? I could never hurt anyone."

"It seemed the way she was writing that she was getting a little bit scared," Jackie says. "She was confused, I think."

But Michael pressed her to meet again, which led to their final meeting on August 7. After meeting at Barnes & Noble, Michael drove her to a nearby second-story apartment on Sample Road, according to the police report. He told Stephanie that the apartment belonged to a friend of his. Michael took his pants and shorts off, Stephanie told police, and he rubbed his erect penis on her. It was at this point that Levine began calling her daughter, who told the man that her mother was searching for her. That rattled him. Stephanie too was shaken, because when the phone rang a final time, she told him it was the police.

He drove her back to her neighborhood. While stopped at a red light, he pulled his penis out and masturbated until he ejaculated. He said he'd like to see her again after he returned from Canada. Several minutes later, Jaemi Levine found her badly shaken daughter. Police began investigating the molestation the next day.


During the past few years, Florida communities have busily beefed up laws dictating where convicted sex offenders can -- and cannot -- live. Town ordinances that prevent offenders from living near schools are common. Some cities, such as Pembroke Pines and Dania Beach, have passed ordinances that amount to a virtual housing ban for offenders.

While the wisdom and efficacy -- as well as the legality -- of such laws are still being debated, one thing is certain: They ignore the Internet, a fertile turf for sexual predators.

About 25 million kids in the United States use the Internet, according to John Shehan, manager of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's CyberTipline. The tipline, which tracks all types of child sexual exploitation, has logged almost 14,000 incidents of online enticement of children for sexual acts in the past seven years.

Judging by a 2001 study by the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, the CyberTipline's numbers reflect only a fraction of reality. The university study, which was a random sample of 1,501 kids age 10 through 17 who used the Internet regularly, found that about one in five had received a sexual solicitation over the Internet during the previous year. The study also found that teenagers were more often targets than younger children and that about half the time, the recipients didn't tell their parents.

Adding to the risk is a normal impulse to test boundaries. "We are finding more and more often, these children know they're speaking with an adult," Shehan says. The messages are often blatantly sexual. "You'd think the child would tell a parent or someone. But in many situations, they're not; they're continuing the conversations."

Indeed, Stephanie was aware that she was conversing with an adult. "It's like girls who get crushes on their teachers, but the teachers know better than to act on it," Levine explains. "It's natural for the little girl, in a way. These girls are at that developmental stage. They're being normal. It's the adult that's not being normal.

"Yes, [Stephanie] made some serious mistakes in judgment. But that's what molesters want, mistakes in judgment. She made a mistake and put herself in danger."

Stephanie began seeing a therapist after the incident. A Coral Springs detective told Levine that they hadn't been able to get Michael online and suspected that he was out of the country.

However, Jackie, upset that several weeks had passed without an arrest, became impatient with the police investigation. She hatched a plan to find Michael on her own. She set up a phony profile for a 15-year-old girl, which included a poem that ended with the verses: "All mine for all time. I will capture your soul as you steal my heart. Sparkle, smile, shimmer, shine, follow the broken line."

Jackie placed Michael's screen name on AOL's so-called "Buddy List," which meant that if he was online using his screen name, she'd be notified. Not more than a day later, the name popped up on Jackie's screen, and she instant-messaged him, saying that she'd read his profile and was interested in him.

"This guy was very disgusting," she recalls. His approach with her was entirely different than with her 12-year-old sister, as though he adapted to his prey. Using a bizarre tack, he tried to win her over by describing a previous girlfriend. "He was telling me about some fat, blind girl he was a boyfriend to," Jackie says. "How he cared about her so much and what a good person he was because of that. He said he'd 'laid down the dick for her.' He would say sexual things, and I'd say, 'Blah blah blah -- let's wait for that.' It was just gross."

Jackie's plan was to lure him to a meeting place and then have her male high school friends pound the living daylights out of him. It likely would have worked, as Michael agreed to meet, but her mother discovered the plot. Apoplectic, Levine called the police, who didn't look kindly on Jackie's actions.

"Well, they weren't grateful," Jackie says ruefully.

Instead of Jackie herself, a Coral Springs undercover cop made the rendezvous with Michael at a Borders bookstore parking lot on September 9. The man answering to the name of Michael was Rehman, who was in the United States on an expired visa. He confessed to molesting Stephanie, police said, and he was taken to the Broward County Jail. His bond was set at $35,500, and he was declared indigent.

On September 23, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the Department of Homeland Security filed an immigration detainer with the Broward Sheriff's Office requesting that ICE be notified if Rehman was to be released or moved to another jail.

Levine and her family felt a ripple of relief after weeks of knowing that this sexual predator had been on the loose. It was, of course, a misguided sense of peace.


Although Waqas Rehman has no previous record of sexual crimes, a brief outline of his years in America suggests a furtive lifestyle. He was born in Karachi, Pakistan, in 1975 and landed in Fairfield, California, in 1998. He moved frequently, sometimes renting more than one apartment at a time, according to public records. He moved to Broward County permanently in 2001 and at the time of his arrest had been working at a Dunkin' Donuts for a year.

He began a romantic relationship with a minor, Lorena Corina Franca, an immigrant from Uruguay living in South Florida. On her 18th birthday, February 19, 2004, she and Rehman filed for a marriage license. They wed in a ceremony conducted at the Broward County Courthouse on April 14, 2004.

Rehman apparently didn't mind burning those who did him favors.

Mesam Alvani, a 24-year-old who lives in Plantation, had the misfortune of meeting Rehman several years ago at the mosque they both attended in Miami. He and several other men socialized with Rehman on occasion and once had dinner at Rehman's home. He recalls him as a not particularly religious man, given to talkativeness, bordering on bragging. "He spent a lot of time on a laptop," Alvani says.

Rehman hijacked Alvani's AOL account as well as other financial documents while Alvani was in Pakistan during an extended stay and racked up about $4,000 in bills, Alvani says. This was partly why police had difficulty tracking down Michael. When Alvani's circle of friends learned that Rehman had been arrested for molestation, Alvani says, "We felt really sick. After that, we don't even feel like talking about that person."

The Mitsubishi that Rehman used during the assignation belonged to Nafis Hasan, a 58-year-old Coral Springs woman who speaks little English. According to her son, Komail Hasan, the family had known Rehman in Pakistan and, because of that, allowed him to borrow the car occasionally. It took them three weeks and about $1,200 to get the car back from police. Not surprisingly, they feel betrayed. "You'd never even imagine that he could do that," Hasan says of Rehman's actions.

Meanwhile, Jaemi and Mitch Levine were preparing for their October 2 wedding. Given Rehman's confession, she wasn't particularly concerned about the case or Rehman.

"He should have been held in the Broward County Jail until any kind of bail and bond was set for him," Levine says now. "Because there was an immigration hold on him, he'd be held at Krome [Detention Center in Miami] until he was found either guilty or innocent. If he served a sentence, he'd be deported after that. I understood that I didn't have to worry about him being on the street again -- period."

Indeed, had the Broward State Attorney's Office charged Rehman in a timely manner, that's probably what would have happened. But for reasons that remain murky, the case was colossally mishandled.

"There was a period of time in there in which things can't be accounted for," offers Dennis Siegel, who's in charge of the SAO's sex crimes prosecution unit. "For whatever reason, the case just got processed a little... we made a mistake, simply put; we made a mistake. It took us longer to process than it should have."

Why?

"I can't tell you for that specific case. Our office at any given time has 600 to 800 cases pending in this unit. To be able to account for every bit of time for every case is just impossible. There were some issues that contributed to it taking longer, but overwhelmingly, the fault was ours for not processing it quickly enough.

"But by the same token, we had been told and knew there was an immigration hold that was pending anyhow. It doesn't excuse us taking too long, but we almost thought there was a backup in there as far as keeping a hold on him."

Levine and the prosecutor in the case, James Weick Jr., immediately clashed, partly because she didn't think he was going after Rehman with vigor. Weick, a veteran prosecutor who by his own count has handled more than 250 jury trials, has a penchant for bluntness. Now in private practice, Weick handled an average of 60 to 75 cases at any given time while in the sex crimes unit.

"There was a delay in getting a police report from the Coral Springs Police Department," Weick explains. "There was a delay in getting the daughter in for the pretrial interview. I had to do an investigative request to get the family to come in because they did not come in, for whatever reason. After they came in, there were some problems with the girl's testimony which I can't get into. It took some time to get her to open up and discuss that. Then from there, whatever the process between Dennis [Siegel] and me took some time."

Levine scoffs at that explanation. She'd been in steady communication with Ron Jones, the Coral Springs detective who handled the case. (Jones did not return phone messages left by New Times requesting an interview.) He's told her that the paperwork was filed in a timely manner.

As for scheduling Stephanie's interview, Levine says the first notice she got was finding a subpoena stuck to her door when she returned three days after her October 2 wedding -- almost a month after the arrest. "It wasn't served to anyone, just left on the door," she says. "I have four different numbers I'd given the State Attorney's Office, but this is the only notice I got."

Unknown to Levine, however, was that Weick had submitted his resignation on October 6, a development that became a distraction from the case.

Weick accepts responsibility -- though not without some angels dancing on a pin head. "There's blame on my part because my focus certainly was on things about leaving the office," he admits. "But I'd gotten the file to my supervisor [Siegel] before that time period ran out. But I probably wasn't as diligent as I could have been to make sure he got it filed in time."

Levine's not buying it.

"His [Weick's] attitude," Levine asserts, "was that [Stephanie] was going to be a lousy witness and that most parents expect too much and what did I expect to come out of this case anyway? I looked at him and said, 'First of all, why are you concerned with her being a perfect witness when you have a total confession? Second, my expectations are that he'll be sentenced for whatever crimes he committed and confessed to, serve his sentence, and he'll be deported and he won't hit the streets of this country again. '"


Regardless of Levine's hopes, the case withered on the vine. She first learned of its fate on October 28, a Thursday, when she received an urgent call from Velma Ruiz, the victim's advocate assigned to Stephanie. "She said that there was a serious problem with the case and I needed to call Dennis Siegel," Levine says.

Ruiz had no doubt learned that, the day before, Judge Cynthia Imperato had granted a motion to release Rehman without bail because no charges had been filed within the time frame required by state statute. Ruiz would not talk about the matter, but Ron Ishoy, a spokesman for the Broward SAO, responded in writing about the case. Ruiz had gotten a final update on Weick's outstanding cases on October 28, according to Ishoy. "He told her Mr. Siegel had not signed off on this particular case but it was not a problem because there was [a federal] hold," Ishoy wrote.

At Ruiz's urging, Levine pressed Siegel. "He assured me that he'd do whatever he could, as quickly as he could," Levine says. "He didn't do it that day or Friday. He didn't do it Monday, when he had until 8:30 p.m. -- when this guy was actually getting out of jail -- to do something.

"On Tuesday, I sat my ass in his office until he did. He was not a happy puppy." Levine also insisted that Siegel request an emergency hearing before the judge to arraign Rehman and set bail, but he told her that wasn't possible.

Despite the fact that Imperato had ordered Rehman released, Siegel and others say they believed the federal detainer would keep him from walking free. "We had no reason to believe that the hold would be lifted, " Ishoy wrote. "The feds lifted the hold without telling us."

But according to Michael Rozos, an ICE field director for detention and removal in Florida, a detainer is simply a notification process that asks jail keepers to notify the agency if a prisoner is going to be moved or released.

Whatever help the feds could have been, the Broward SAO missed its chance. "If they'd charged [Rehman] with that crime, he probably would not, with our detainer, have been entitled to a bond at the state level," Rozos says. "He probably would have remained in custody until such time as he had a full hearing and was either convicted or acquitted."

But there was no sense of urgency -- even though Rehman had been released on his own recognizance and he appeared to be a flight risk. Steve Rossi, the public defender assigned to Rehman, tried to drop his client on November 12, asserting in a motion that his client "has been unable to abide by the terms and conditions of his representation." The problem may have been that Rossi, who later withdrew his request, had been unable to contact Rehman, but Rossi did not return a phone message requesting an interview for this article.

In addition, a court notice dated November 5 sent to Rehman via U.S. mail was returned as undeliverable. Rehman's alternative address for such documents was a suite at a warehouse building on Sunrise Boulevard in Plantation. The suite now appears abandoned, with no indication of what business might have been there last fall or if indeed it had been a legitimate mailing address at all.

Despite this, Imperato granted Rossi two requests to postpone the arraignment hearing. Not until December 20 was the hearing held. And in what should have come as no surprise to anyone, Rehman was a no-show. (Rossi, in fact, had requested once again to withdraw because his client wouldn't cooperate.) Imperato issued a warrant for Rehman's arrest. But it was too late.

Levine, who'd been suffering through a lengthy and serious staph infection, attended the hearing. She was livid when Rehman didn't show up, and she called Det. Jones. She recalls him telling her: "Turn around, go upstairs in the courthouse, and get a physical copy of the warrant and bring it to me. He's about to step off a plane." Jones told her that he had a friend in U.S. Customs who'd seen Rehman's name on a list for a flight to New York. She got the warrant and called him, but he told her it was too late; Rehman had apparently made his way to Amman, Jordan.

She recalls: "I broke. I was hysterical."

Since then, Levine has slowly retraced every twist and turn in the case, keeping authorities' feet close to the fire. She's pushing lawmakers to make molestation a federal crime and to force local prosecutors to be more accountable for screwups. (Ishoy says that, in response to the Rehman case, the office has created a separate case-filing team for the sex crimes unit and that Siegel reviews the team's progress twice a week.)

Only recently, Levine learned from an FBI agent investigating the case that Rehman never actually boarded the jet that supposedly took him to Jordan. She sputters in dismay that it took almost six months for investigators to verify whether he actually used the ticket he'd purchased. "Wouldn't that have been the first thing you'd check?" she says. He's now believed to be in the New York area.

But Levine and Stephanie know that he could be anywhere. She scoffs at the notion that he wouldn't dare return to South Florida. "Molesters don't think the way normal people do," she declares.

It's a deeply troubling thought for Levine. No matter where he is, Rehman or Michael or whatever name he might be using could right now be pressing the "send" button on a computer. Moments later, an unsuspecting teenaged girl could hear the cyber-bleep of an instant message arriving, with a guy proclaiming how pretty her picture is. Imagine the ingratiating message on the screen. So tell me about you...

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