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‘Cannibal Cop’ Case Goes|to Russia, With Lust

MANHATTAN (CN) - The Russian owner of the extreme fetish website visited by New York City's so-called "cannibal cop" testified Tuesday by pre-taped video deposition, as the evidence phase of the trial drew to a close.

NYPD Officer Gilberto Valle has been suspended without pay and lost his wife and daughter after his chats about cannibalism on the website Darkfetishnet.com filled the pages of a federal indictment.

Valle claims federal investigators, unfamiliar with a deviant subculture, mistook adult role playing for a criminal plot.

Sergey Merenkov, the 34-year-old co-founder of Darkfetishnet, spoke for hours about the history and the dynamics of his page via a grainy video shot in Moscow on Feb. 19.

The pale, bald webmaster lay back on a black swivel chair and sipped from a cup with the message "I (Heart) Tea," as he explained through a translator how he came to host a website catering to rape, necrophilia, asphyxiation, decapitation, cannibalism and other morbid fantasies.

Modeled after Facebook, the website greets visitors with a disclaimer: "Welcome to the social network where you won't feel like an outcast because of your 'dark fetish.' Why? Because this place is created by people like you for people like you."

Merenkov said his own extreme fetish days ended when he was 18, and now he spends most of his time running a company that sells Spanish ice cream in Russia.

While the ice cream business pays the bills, he says, he maintains the Darkfetishnet website as a "hobby."

The disclaimer ends, in boldface: "Please remember: this place is for fantasy only, so play safe."

Though it boasts more than 37,000 members, only 4,000 are considered "active," meaning they log on "several times a week or more," Merenkov testified.

He estimated that one out of four members are, or claim to be, women. Most visitors hail from the United States, followed by Western European countries and then other nations, he said.

Valle chatted on the website with three men accused of being his co-conspirators: Michael Vanhise, Aly Khan and a user known as "Moody Blues."

Merenkov said that FBI investigators grilled him only about Valle, not the alleged co-conspirators.

In an attempt to prove that Valle went beyond fantasy to kidnapping conspiracy, prosecutors claim that Valle posted pictures of real women he knew from social media sites such as Facebook.

Shortly before Valle's arrest, Darkfetishnet created a new policy barring users from posting photos of unconsenting women on a part of the website called "What would you do to her," Merenkov said.

"This practice is unethical because there is a difference between pictures of models, who has posed for a photographer, who accepted money for her work, who knows her photos will be disseminated on the Internet," he said. "And the models know her photograph will be used for a different purpose."

He said the practice was legal, and practiced by more than 100 of his users, but it offended his personal moral code.

On cross-examination, Merenkov scoffed at the idea that he could police all of his users.

"It's like asking [Mark] Zuckerberg if he knows everybody on Facebook," he said. "Of course not."

Later in the day, the defense called a 23-year-old woman serving as its paralegal to speak about her assignment: to sign up for a Darkfetishnet account and create a video of her experiences for trial.

She said she visited the site from 50 to 100 times in her research, and received several unsolicited invitations to engage in cannibalism role playing in her private message boxes.

One user wrote: "Welcome to DFN :) Have a nice time here," on her profile page.

Like Facebook, the site lists the birthdays of its members, and allows users to give each other "gifts," such as meat and skulls.

She showed jurors two sample pages of users whose profiles she viewed.

A middle-aged German man, who described his fetishes as "rape and executing of people," had 136 friends on the site.

The other user, who calls herself "Vicious Vixen," described herself as a 24-year-old "furry" whose avatar is a snuggly cartoon fox.

Underneath that picture, "Vixen" wrote that her "fantasies are being executed with a gun and eaten as a meat girl."

Echoing the defense theory of the case, "Vixen" added: "I don't become close to anyone I meet only. I keep a fine line between my personal life and my online life."

Prosecutor Randall Jackson suggested that the paralegal's journey did not represent the typical Darkfetishnet user's experience.

"It wasn't just an accident that you stumbled across the cutest fox on the Internet?" he asked the paralegal.

"Correct," she answered.

The paralegal acknowledged that she went through "two or three" test runs before settling on the presentation she wanted to show the jury.

The defense wrapped up its case without testimony from forensic psychologist Park Dietz, who testified for the prosecution in the case of serial-killer cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer.

Valle did not testify in his own defense.

Closing arguments are scheduled for Thursday.

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