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A Pittsburgh attorney was caught in a child sex sting, but vigilante justice doesn't always stick

Vigilante group catches Pittsburgh attorney in child sex sting
Vigilante group catches Pittsburgh attorney in child sex sting 03:31

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- A Pittsburgh lawyer is accused of soliciting underage girls for sex and driving to Jefferson County for the meetup. Police made the arrest while members of a vigilante group say they did the legwork, but state law could complicate matters. 

In recent years, more and more individuals and groups like 814PredHunters have taken the law into their own hands, posing online as decoys and setting up stings for people looking for sexual encounters with kids. But right now, state law says a person violates the law only if they make contact with an actual minor or a law enforcement officer posing as a minor when it comes to things like this.

It's something local defense attorney Phil DiLucente says is bound to come up in this case. 

The vigilante group sat ready with the camera rolling as Punxsutawney police approached Pittsburgh attorney Paul Luvara. A literal takedown unfolds with police throwing Luvara on the ground. A gun falls from the car.

This sting stems from the work of a vigilante group called 814PredHunters.

"Well, Paul Luvara started speaking to one of my 15-year-old decoys Oct. 15 or 18, something like that," 814PredHunters founder Brian Knepp said. 

814PredHunters is one of many groups frustrated by the abundance of online child predators and the lack of resources some police departments can throw at the problem. 

"Nobody truly knows except for people that deal with us all the time, how bad it really is. Any one of my decoys, if I expose one of their guys in less than five minutes, (we) can have another adult knowing their age and wanting to speak sexual with them," Knepp said. 

Luvara's scheduled preliminary hearing Tuesday ended up getting pushed to a later date.

He took down his law firm's website and the state disciplinary board still lists him as active.

But local defense attorney Phil DiLucente, who does not represent Luvara, says this gets complicated.

"I think the intent of 814PredHunters is good, however, we can't have a vigilante justice system and so law enforcement needs to be involved from the incept," DiLucente said.

A Clearfield County judge said the same, dropping the charges filed in two other cases involving 814PredHunters.

President Judge Fredric Ammerman said the General Assembly picked the existing language in the state statute for a reason, writing, in part: "if the General Assembly intended to criminalize communicating with vigilantes (i.e. non-law enforcement individuals) posing as minors, then the statute would, in its plain language, express that intent."

DiLucente says this could open up the door for issues in this case.

"I think what you'll have then is due process issues, you'll also have potentially entrapment," he said.   

The founder of 814PredHunters says they've definitely run into some police departments and district attorneys not interested in their work, but just as many who are interested, and they're proud of what they're doing for the community.

KDKA-TV reached out to Luvara and his defense attorney but didn't hear back by airtime. 

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