UPDATE: Charges Dropped Against Public Defender Accused of Child Pimping

By: Cathleen Moxley, Brooks Jarosz, Michael Hyland, Alex Snyder Email
By: Cathleen Moxley, Brooks Jarosz, Michael Hyland, Alex Snyder Email

UPDATE 12/05/12 @ 5:26 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Charges against a Kanawha County public defender accused of child prostitution have been dropped.

Prosecuting attorneys say there is not enough evidence of criminal activity to pursue anything further against Steven Conifer, who was charged with child prostitution back in July 2011 after allegedly using his computer to pimp out children for money.

The reasons behind the charges being dropped: writing the words that Conifer wrote in chat rooms on his computer is not illegal and prosecutors couldn’t find any children Conifer allegedly pimped.

Conifer was originally arrested in July 2011 after a man from New Jersey claimed Conifer offered him sex with children in exchange for money.

Charges against Conifer were originally dismissed in August of this year, but the investigation wasn’t over and he was sent back to jail just last month after the person who posted bond for Conifer back in July had withdrawn the money.

We have not been able to reach Conifer and his attorney has thus far refused comment on these latest developments.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.

UPDATE 11/23/12 @ 12:50 p.m.
KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A public defender accused of child prostitution is back behind bars.

Steven Conifer was booked into the South Central Regional Jail Thursday.

Kanawha County Prosecutors tell WSAZ.com the person who posted bond for Conifer back in July has since withdrawn it.

Conifer was arrested in July after a man from New Jersey claimed he offered sex with children in exchange for money.

Prosecutors say a dismissal order for the charges was filed back in August but has not been signed.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.

UPDATE 8/22/12 @ 5:50 p.m.
KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A public defender accused of offering sex with children for money is off the hook -- at least for now.

Charges have been dismissed against Steven Conifer, but that doesn't mean case closed.

So far, there's not enough evidence to prove he was a child pimp, but prosecutors say the investigation isn't over.

Conifer was arrested in July 2011, accused of using his computer to pimp out children.

“I did nothing wrong and I will be vindicated in the court of law,” Conifer said when he was arrested.

By law, if a case isn't presented to a grand jury after a year, the charges are dismissed.

“These conversations that he had were very sexually explicit,” Kanawha County Prosecutor Mark Plants said. “In fact, they're very sickening, but the conversations in of themselves are not illegal.”

Conifer's attorney, James Cagle, says neither he nor Conifer are willing to comment on the case, which prosecutors say is still wide open.

Even though the evidence isn’t enough for the charges to stand, it was enough for the arrest.

“If you don't want to be arrested, then you ought not make statements like that over the Internet about children,” Plants said.

Conifer originally claimed his computer had been hacked, but IP addresses show otherwise.

“It was in fact him that sent these messages, and they are sick, sexual explicit messages,” Plants said.

Plants said this case is still being investigated and could still be presented to a grand jury at any time.

As for Conifer's career, public defender George Castelle says he remains suspended without pay, and his job status is currently under review.

UPDATE 8/10/11 @ 11:15 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The case of a public defender accused of receiving support from prostitution and pimping is moving forward in the court system.

On Wednesday, Steven Conifer waived his right to a preliminary hearing. That means his case will go to the grand jury.

Conifer was arrested late last month after officers in New Jersey said they found instant messages between Conifer and a man in New Jersey.

In those messages, Conifer allegedly talks about young boys and how he allegedly could provide the man in New Jersey with young boys for sexual services.

UPDATE 7/20/11 @ 10:35 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Charleston Police tell WSAZ.com a Kanawha County Public Defender has been arrested and charged with receiving support from prostitution and pimping.

Police say Steven James Conifer was charged Wednesday afternoon at his apartment along Kanawha Boulevard.

"I will be vindicated," Conifer said as police escorted him to Magistrate Court.

The charge against Conifer carries a minimum prison term of two years, if he is found guilty.

The investigation started when police in New Jersey were given a tip about someone trying to offer little boys for sex, according to a search warrant that WSAZ.com obtained last week.

Detectives linked the IP address to a computer in Charleston, and police say it belonged to Conifer.

Conifer says his computer was hacked. He says, "I did nothing wrong."

Charleston Police Sgt. Bobby Eggleton responded to Conifer's claim by saying, "IP addresses lead you to who and what. When you hack a computer, your IP address will change. And, it hasn't in this case."

According to a criminal complaint, police say Conifer was involved in graphic and explicit chats about having sex with boys. Some of it was so explicit, WSAZ.com can't print it on the Web. The alleged victims were anywhere from 5 years old to 12, according to court records.

Charleston Police were notified by a detective in New Jersey on June 7 about the investigation, according to court records. The search warrant was filed at the Kanawha County Courthouse on July 14.

Investigators say they seized DVDs, computer hard drives, a cellphone, laptop and a password card from Conifer's apartment.

According to the search warrant, Conifer had been instant messaging with a man in New Jersey through a chat room. Detectives say the instant messages consisted of Conifer talking about young boys.

"We look at this as being a heinous crime. You can't get on the Internet, you can't go to the streets. You can't talk about our children like that. The police and the prosecutor's office, we take that very serious," Eggleton says.

WSAZ.com didn't release the public defender's name last week because no charges were filed against him.

Conifer continued to work as a Kanawha County Public Defender since the story broke last week.

Chief Public Defender George Castelle said Wednesday that Conifer has been suspended from his position. He says it has not been determined yet if that will be with or without pay.

"It's very troubling because of the seriousness of the charges, but we also still recognize the presumption of innocence and hope for the best," Castelle says.

Castelle says Conifer worked for the office for less than six months. His job primarily has him working with adults on mental hygiene cases. He occasionally worked with teens, Castelle says. However, police do not allege that they are involved in this case in any way.

During a hearing Wednesday, a magistrate set Conifer's bond at $50,000 or 10 percent cash.

Conifer posted bond, and his preliminary hearing is scheduled Aug. 10.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Police are investigating a Kanawha County Public Defender who's facing serious allegations of cyber crimes including prostitution of young boys.

WSAZ.com has chosen not to release his name, because no arrests have been made and no charges have been filed.

Charleston Police recently served a warrant to search the public defender's home but detectives would not comment on the case since it is still an ongoing investigation.

In the search warrant, obtained by WSAZ.com, graphic chats that are so explicit some cannot be shared here.

Online chat rooms are becoming a well known territory for internet predators.

"This is a growing problem not only in Kanawha County but across the nation as more people are online, on the web," Kanawha County Prosecutor Mark Plants said. "Certainly the more people who are online, the more crime there's going to be."

Caught in the web, the public defender is now a target after a New Jersey police department got a tip from an adult involved with a chat the person on the other end was attempting to pimp young boys.

Detectives linked the I.P. address to a computer in Charleston.

Police searched the public defender's home along Kanawha Boulevard, seizing DVDs, computer hard drives a cell phone and a password card.

Also in the search warrant, explicit chats including offers to hook up the adult with young boys.

"Well, gimme an idea of age...amt. of time u want, and I can try 2 give u an exact price, depending on the boy," one instant message said.

Those allegations can be found in an explicit chat contained in a search warrant.

"Just tell me what age range u'd be most interested in," another instant message said. "I usu break em down by group: 5-7; 8-10; 10-12."

Still no charges have been filed but the chats don't paint a picture of someone who's supposed to defend the public.

"In this case we don't know if there's any other roommates living in the house, we don't know if someone hacked into a computer," Plants said. "All of those questions have to be answered before anyone is charged."

Detectives are still piecing together additional evidence.

The prosecutor says any child prostitution charges are felonies.

We did stop by the public defender's home but no one answered the door.

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