Santiago Esparza / The Detroit News
Last Updated: February 08. 2011 10:07PM
Detroit — A Massachusetts man remains jailed today on charges he allegedly came to the city three times last year to have sex with a 13-year-old Detroit girl he wed in an online video game.
John W. Phillips, 54, of Fitchburg, Mass., is charged with 11 felonies including sexual assault, using a computer to communicate with another person to commit a crime, accosting a child for immoral purposes and child sexually abusive activity. The maximum sentences for the charges range from four to 20 years in prison.
Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon said Phillips met the girl while playing RuneScape online and that they chatted online through the game in 2010. He said Phillips unsuccessfully attempted mailing the girl a cellular telephone.
So Phillips brought her the phone in person in February 2010 and had sex with the girl at an Eastpointe motel, Napoleon said. Phillips also is accused of having sex with the girl in his van and at her home.
Napoleon said Phillips and the girl wed in the role-playing game, which allows players to assume identities and interact with other players, some of whom live in other countries.
"They got married in the game," sheriff's corporal Ray Johnson said. "Maybe he thought that was legitimate in real life. It's not."
An investigation was launched into the man after the girl's mother discovered her exchanging texts with someone using a cellular phone, Napoleon said. The girl wasn't supposed to have a phone.
Phillips eluded capture while visiting with his father in upstate New York, Napoleon said. He also dyed his hair, grew out his beard or cut it to alter his appearance and keep police off guard, Napoleon said.
"He didn't want to come back to Michigan and face charges," Napoleon said.
Phillips was arrested in New York and fought extradition to Michigan. It took several law enforcement agencies working together to make the case he needed to face charges here, officials said.
He was arraigned Jan. 13 and faces a pretrial hearing on Thursday in 36th District Court.
The Wayne County Sheriff Office's Internet Crimes Unit sought out Phillips but it took help from the Michigan State Police, Wayne County prosecutors, U.S. Secret Service agents, federal prosecutors and police in Massachusetts and New York to nab Phillips, officials said.
Phillips doesn't have a criminal record, and it appears his only source of income comes from selling "Magic: The Gathering" game cards.
Johnson said the girl's mother worked two or three jobs and wasn't home for extended periods of time.
Michigan State Police Lt. Tom Kish said predators are starting to move from chat rooms to video games that allow players to interact over the Internet and through text messaging.
"It is easy for children to be contacted in nontraditional ways," Kish said. "Internet use has to be monitored."
The alleged victim is undergoing counseling, Napoleon said.
"This has been traumatic for her," he said.
To set up Internet safety training, call Michigan State Police Lt. Tom Kish at (734) 525-4492.
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