MANHATTAN (CN) - A former police chief's sexual fantasies paled in comparison to the "cannibal cop" case from which his investigation sprung, but the federal judge who sent him away for 10 years on Tuesday found them more serious.
Former Massachusetts Veterans Affairs Police Chief Richard Meltz, a 66-year-old husband and father of two, landed in federal court from a probe that began against former NYPD Officer Gilberto Valle, who chatted obsessively on fetish websites about his supposed plans to rape, kidnap and eat women.
As the FBI looked into that case, agents followed email chains to Valle's chat buddies, who included Michael Vanhise, then 22. The communications they gleaned from Vanhise led them to Meltz and Stuyvesant High School librarian Christopher Asch.
Only Valle's kinks included cannibalism, but the other three men were fingered in a sexually motivated kidnapping plot that involved "a Taser gun, rope, a meat hammer, duct tape, gloves, cleaning supplies, zip ties, a dental retractor, two speculums, 12-inch skewers, pliers, a wireless modem, and a leg spreader," according to the indictment.
All of the men denied that they were serious, and critics of the FBI investigation accused the agency of acting as "thought police."
Valle took his case to a federal jury and lost, opening him up to a potential of life imprisonment.
Meltz copped to conspiracy charges that held a 10-year maximum sentence before Valle's conviction were thrown out on appeal.
U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe, who presided over both cases, found that Valle's chats were imaginary, and protected under the First Amendment.
He did not believe the same was true of Meltz, as became apparent during the Tuesday sentencing.
Giving him the maximum sentence of a decade, Gardephe called Meltz "a danger to the community," and said there was "no question in his mind that the kidnapping he discussed were real."
Unlike the Valle case, Meltz's conversations with his alleged co-conspirators "did not exist solely in cyberspace," but also in person, the judge said.
Meltz's attorney Peter Brill described his client's fantasies as a "Movie of the Week" in his mind.
"This was, I don't mean to make this sound silly, this was a hobby of Mr. Meltz for many years," Brill said.
"When it came to this hobby, this pursuit over the course of all his adult life, he had a predilection of fantasizing about violence."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hadassa Waxman bristled at the "hobby" description, calling it "really offensive."
Brill specified that he was referring to Meltz's fantasies before the conspiracies for which he was convicted.
His client now faces a long prison term while battling a number of physical and mental ailments, and leaving behind a supportive family, Brill said.
Meltz's wife and older daughter sat in the courtroom to support him.
Meltz said that he came from a stable home, but that his mother was "physically abusive," Brill said.
Meltz's pale face turned red and became agitated as the judge read his conclusions.
When he completes his sentence, Meltz will be treated as a sex offender, and will be forbidden any contact with a child under 17, a condition that made his wife weep. His Internet use will be monitored, and probation officers will watch for pornography that involves bondage, domination, or sado-masochism, the judge said.
After consulting with his client, Brill told the judge that Meltz objected to these particular restrictions, but Gardephe refused to bend.
"Mr. Meltz expressed in his own words great interest in strangling a 9-year-old girl," the judge said.
In light of that remark, the restrictions were "entirely reasonable," Gardephe said.
Gardephe was referring to Vanhise's 9-year-old sister, whom he offered to his co-conspirators.
Vanhise also insisted that the plot was imaginary, but a jury did not believe him and Asch at their separate trials. They await sentencing.
The wife and daughter declined to talk to the press as they left the courtroom.
Brill told reporters that this case and others bode a time of severe penalties for "talk."
"I think that the troubling question about the conspiracy involved is you can sit at home, or maybe even meet up with people, and that's all you do is talk. Then you can be sent away for the rest of your life," Brill said. "And this is an issue that we will be facing more and more."
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