“If anyone asks, I’m 15.”
That’s what Naperville sex offender Eric Hakala, 37, told one of several underage girls while posing as a St. Charles East High School student on Facebook, authorities said.
Hakala appeared in DuPage County court Thursday on charges including indecent solicitation of a child, distribution of harmful material and child pornography. His bail was set at $1 million by Judge Anthony Coco.
Authorities said Hakala used a Facebook account set up in the name of a fictitious high school student, “Mike Evans,” to gain the trust of girls. He is formally accused of soliciting sex from two girls, but prosecutors said police identified at least six other potential victims, and parents are being urged to check their children’s Facebook accounts.
One victim, who is 14 or 15, went to police after Hakala admitted he was “much older” and asked if that would “scare her off,” Assistant State’s Attorney Kirsten King said in court.
“If anyone asks, I’m 15,” Hakala told the girl, according to King.
The teen worked with investigators who monitored texts, calls and Facebook messages from Hakala that prosecutors said were sexual. Hakala later sent an explicit photo of himself and asked to meet at a movie theater, King said.
Detectives located Hakala in Naperville by tracking his cellphone. Officers found more than 100 images and videos of child pornography — involving victims from toddler age to 14 — on computers at his home on the 1100 block of Iroquois Avenue, prosecutors said. There also was evidence he had been communicating with at least six other minor girls, King said.
Hakala’s arrest followed a seven-month investigation by the U.S. Marshals Office and police in Naperville, Batavia and Oswego.
Naperville police Sgt. Lou Cammiso said the probe began when one victim came forward. Since then, detectives have monitored Hakala online, collected evidence and worked within the courts to obtain wiretap authorization and search warrants.
“These investigations do take a long period of time and, obviously, we have to balance that out with the danger to the community,” he said.
In 2001, Hakala was convicted of indecent solicitation of a child in Will County. His sentence required him to register as a sex offender for 10 years. The registration has since expired.
Police said parents who discover their children had contact with Hakala on Facebook or through the KIK cellphone application should preserve any conversations or photos that were exchanged. Cammiso said parents should not contact Facebook, which is cooperating with law enforcement, because detectives do not want Hakala’s account accidentally shut down before they can collect as much evidence as possible.
“If they shut it down, it’ll prevent us from identifying more victims because they will no longer be listed as friends,” he said, adding that police plan to shut down the page once the investigation is complete.
Parents who suspect their children communicated with Hakala are asked to call Naperville police at (630) 305-5384 or Batavia police at (630) 454-2500.
Cammiso warned that it’s “getting to be common” for sexual predators to set up fake social media accounts as a means of accessing victims.
“I think the message there for parents and kids is, know the people you’re friending,” he said. “You don’t always know who is on the other end of the computer.”
In an email alert to parents, St. Charles School District 303 officials noted there’s “no record” of Hakala ever attending a District 303 school, and there are no high school students named Mike Evans.
“We also would like to take this opportunity to remind all parents that knowing the logins and passwords for your child’s social media accounts and periodically monitoring the postings on those accounts are highly recommended,” district spokesman Jim Blaney said in a statement.
DuPage State’s Attorney Bob Berlin said the Internet is like a “virtual electronic playground” where sexual predators hide behind anonymity.
“I encourage parents to talk to their children about Internet safety and to instruct their children to be cautious when dealing with people on social-networking sites,” he said. “Remind your children that people may not always be who they say they are, as is alleged in this case.”
Hakala would have to post $100,000 to be released from jail. If he is bailed out, he’s been barred from using a computer and having any contact with children. He also would be fitted with a GPS tracking device and required to report regularly to the probation department.
His attorney, Vince Solano, said he had just been retained and had no immediate comment on the charges Thursday.
Arraignment is set for Nov. 18 in front of DuPage Judge Blanche Hill Fawell.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.