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Unauthorized photos of teen water polo athletes were posted on gay porn sites.
When Edison High School boys water polo coach Diggy Riley was shown an online photo of a player on a pool deck wearing just a Speedo swim suit, he recognized the athlete immediately.
The player was an Edison freshman.
The photo was from a gay porn site that also contains photos of nude young men and young males engaged in sex acts.
The Web site is one of five gay-oriented Web sites found by The Orange County Register that contained dozens of non-action photographs of apparently unsuspecting high school boys water polo players from least 11 Orange County high schools as well as schools in Los Angeles and San Diego counties.
On these sites, images of local high school athletes, some as young as 14, according to parents, are juxtaposed next to photos of nude or semi-nude young males and graphic sexual content. The photos are the subject of lewd comments from chat room participants as far away as Australia.
"It is disgusting that this is where we are in society," El Toro High coach Don Stoll said.
The presence of the photos on these Web sites has alarmed local parents, coaches and school officials and traumatized high school athletes who were unaware they were being photographed. In some cases, boys have sought counseling after learning their photos were on the Web sites, parents said.
The photos have also raised questions about First Amendment rights as well as Internet and privacy law.
"With free speech and photography, there's a gray cloud in terms of what is legal, constitutional," said Assemblyman Jose Solorio, D-Santa Ana, chairman of the Assembly Public Safety Committee.
Solorio, after being informed of the Register's finding, said he will have the Public Safety Committee staff investigate the matter.
"The courts have generally favored free speech. But (the fact) that these photos are on Web sites, pornographic Web sites, raises valid questions about its legality," Solorio said.
But Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, and constitutional law experts said the photographers are protected by the First Amendment.
"Based on our research, we have found it's very hard to regulate images on the Internet," Smyth said.
"These kids don't look at what they do as shameful," said Joan Gould, an international water polo official and a spokeswoman for a group of Orange County water polo parents. "This is a sport, a sport they're very passionate about, and for someone to come in and take what these kids are doing and take it out of context and exploit these images, these kids and their schools, because you can see the school name on the caps, is just horrible."
UC Irvine police confirmed they are investigating whether Scott Cornelius, a UCI police dispatcher, photographed high school players for gay-oriented sites. Cornelius remains on "active duty," according to UCI Police Chief Paul Henisey.
"We're looking into the matter," Henisey said. "We're not exactly sure about what we have or what kinds of issues there are."
Cornelius did not respond to repeated interview requests.
Although the Register's findings caught a majority of parents, players and coaches by surprise, some in the local water polo community said they were aware of the Web sites last fall.
Foothill High parent La Donna Verloop said she saw images of current and former Foothill aquatics athletes on Web sites during the fall. One player was adjusting his suit. Another was changing his suit.
"It made me sick to my stomach," Verloop recalled. "I wanted to throw up. ... If my kid was on there, you could be sure that I would have these people in court."
Verloop said she immediately notified the families of the situation.
A photo of one current Orange County player adjusting his suit is the subject of a series of lewd comments on another Web site.
"I feel my life wasn't respected as it should," the player said.
"To have people from all over the world on these Web site chat rooms talking about what they'd like to do with these kids is disgusting," Gould said. "It's completely exploitive."
The Register found non-action photos of players from 11 Orange County high schools and three other Southern California schools on several pages of boycollector.net, a gay porn site registered to a London address. Some of the water polo photos were placed on pages next to photos of young males clad only in thongs and other young males simulating masturbation.
"It's disgusting. ... No high school athlete should worry about their picture being taken during the game," said one Orange County coach, who confirmed water polo photos on a Web site included members of his team.
The site had water polo images that listed photo credits for Scott Stanford. The photos credited to Scott Stanford were removed on Friday following Register inquiries made to UC Irvine police and Cornelius.
Other non-action photos of Orange County high school athletes not credited to Stanford remain on the site. Stanford photo credits are also posted on high school water polo photos on other gay-oriented sites. One Web site posts a photo credited to Stanford of a high school player adjusting his trunks.
"Sports photographer Scott Stanford shot and shared this series of pictures in 2004 through internet and within a couple of years the boy has become famous and showed up all over the internet," a caption next to the photo said.
UCI's Henisey said investigators have received information indicating that Cornelius and Stanford are the same person.
Gould was a media operations official at the 2007 Junior World Water Polo Championships at Los Alamitos last summer. Gould said she provided Cornelius a photo credential to the tournament because of a recommendation from another photographer, Allen Rockwell. Non-action photos of athletes from France, Argentina and Puerto Rico competing in the 2007 Junior Worlds have also circulated on gay Web sites.
Gould said she was unaware of the Web site photos at the time of the tournament. She said after she became aware of the Web sites she found Scott Stanford's MySpace page. The photo of a man listed as Stanford on the MySpace page appears identical to Cornelius, Gould said.
The Register has also obtained photos of the same man sitting at the police dispatcher's desk. When Cornelius complained to Gould's Internet provider about comments she made on her Web site, his e-mail came from "Scott Cornelius (email@example.com)", according to copies of e-mails obtained by the Register.
In an e-mail sent to at least two parents of Orange County high school water polo players last week, UCI Detective Shaun Devlin writes that "my department was made aware several weeks ago that Scott Cornelius was possibly taking inappropriate photographs of male water polo players at events within the greater Orange County area."
"I have collected information reference this activity and have been in contact with subject matter experts to discuss this situation," Devlin wrote.
In an e-mail to Gould's Internet provider, Cornelius denies any wrongdoing and said Gould had libeled him "by identifying me as a sexual predator, which is falsely accusing me of a crime, for merely taking pictures of athletes at water polo events."
Photographs of high school water polo players credited to "Allen Snaps" appeared on boycollector.net as well as other gay-oriented sites.
Rockwell wrote in a letter to USA Water Polo Chief Executive Officer Chris Ramsey that he shut down his Web site, allensnaps.com, in November. The site reopened with a registration by proxy, and its home page lists the owner as a Nevada company.
Calls and e-mails to Rockwell were not returned.
The paid photo Web site provides subscribers with water polo and other aquatic sports photos. A preview of the site shows action shots as well as non-action shots of male athletes showering and flexing on pool decks.
"When you sign up you will get 15 full resolution images every day, you can save the individual images to your hard drive or download a ZIP file containing the day's images. Images in the members area do NOT have watermarks or copyright logos on the images," the site said.
A legal disclaimer on the site said: "All images are of an artistic nature and are not intended to suggest or imply anything about the athletes pictured with regards to … sexual orientation." Because the photos are from public events, model release forms are not required, the site said. The photos, the site said, are from junior college and college competition but acknowledges persons under 18 participate in those events.
"Obvious photos of children will not be posted. We have no interest in children nor do we welcome members that have an interest in children. … This Web site does not contain any nudity or sexual material. If you are looking for that sort of material, you are asked to look elsewhere."
In a November letter complaining about the Web site, in response to parent's complaints, USA Water Polo's Ramsey wrote:
"Upon visiting your Web site to view the pictures myself, I noted that you state that 'we make a reasonable, honest effort to ensure that all athletes on the site are at least 18 years of age.' With all due respect, even a cursory review of the pictures on your Web site reveals that many of the athletes whose pictures you are displaying are minors. Further, a number of the pictures were taken at events where only minors were allowed to compete."
Ramsey also said in the letter that the Huntington Beach federation was "determined" to restrict photography at USA Water Polo events to team and family members and designated media.
In a letter in response, Rockwell said he shut down the site in November and that just prior to closing the site, "every single image on the site was from college or university games."
"I am not the hiding in the bushes photo-predator monster that some people want to believe I am," Rockwell wrote, adding that he had received photo credentials to international water polo events.
"This is a difficult issue to be sure," Rockwell wrote. "Every image I took was 100 percent legal and selling the images is also 100 percent legal, yet it angers some people. Perhaps (I suspect) it is the very fact that it's legal that angers them so. I do not know what the answer is. Your prohibition on photography at events (other than family members, etc.) in my opinion is probably not going to work because you have no control over what little Jimmy's mother, brother, sister or uncle does with their photos after they leave the venue. Millions of people in America have digital cameras or camera phones - that cat is out of the bag so to speak."
Peter Yu, director of Drake's Intellectual Property Law Center, said photos taken at public events like high school sports competitions are generally protected by the Constitution.
But Yu also said parents might have legal recourse against photographers and Web sites if the photos are posted on commercial sites.
Assemblyman Smyth has authored the Surrogate Stalker Act (AB534) that would make it illegal to use Internet images to inflict harm on children. The bill was prompted by Jack McClellan, who last year photographed children at California schools and playgrounds and placed them on a Web site described by law enforcement officials as popular with pedophiles.
"This is exactly why we are introducing the Surrogate Stalker Act," Smyth said, referring to the water polo photos. "(The photos) show that this issue goes beyond one incident with McClellan.
"This is why we have to enact some stricter laws to protect our kids."