Sting operation leads to six-month sentence for 68-year-old man
By Justin Wier
A 68-year-old Carroll County man, who sought sex from a police officer posing as a 15-year-old girl online, responded to ads on an adult classified site out of loneliness, his attorney said.
But Judge Anthony M. D’Apolito of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court said Thursday that Wayne Harper’s conduct went beyond that.
“He had every chance to turn around and leave the path that led him to [this],” Judge D’Apolito said.
Judge D’Apolito sentenced Harper to six months in jail as a condition of probation on seven counts of importuning, a charge that results when adults attempt to solicit sex from minors.
Assistant Prosecutor Jennifer McLaughlin said Harper spent three weeks talking to the officer he believed was a 15-year-old girl, in conversations that explicitly discussed sex and expressed a desire for a relationship.
“This conduct is scary, in my opinion,” McLaughlin said.
She added that the officer asked Harper if he would rather date the girl’s 18-year-old sister and he continued to pursue the 15-year-old.
“I don’t want to get in trouble, but I do want you. ... You know what I want,” Harper said according to a police report. He eventually drove from Carrollton to meet the girl in Austintown, where officers arrested him.
Defense attorney Scott Cochran argued that his client experienced loneliness after the death of his wife six years earlier. Harper sought out companionship online, he said, and the police officer was the only person who would engage in conversation.
“This is not a guy who is your typical predator,” Cochran said.
Judge D’Apolito said he struggled to reconcile the Wayne Harper that Cochran and others spoke of with the one who committed these acts.
“I feel pretty bad for this person,” Judge D’Apolito said. “But then I read reports about what this person did, and I’m disgusted by it.”
Harper said he made a tragic mistake.
“It has cost me what 68 years of living as a good person has built up in reputation,” Harper said.
Judge D’Apolito said he didn’t think Harper would do this again, but his actions necessitated punishment.
He compared his struggle with the decision to an earlier ruling in which he sentenced an elderly woman to two years in prison on theft charges.
“I take no joy in doing this today,” Judge D’Apolito said. “I feel bad for you, but my duty is what it is.” Harper will report to the Mahoning County jail by 8 a.m. Monday to begin his sentence.