Prosecutors Get Creative in MySpace Hoax Case
Hope to Bring Charges in Megan Meier's Case By Naming MySpace the Victim of Fraud
By MARY FULGINITI and BONNIE MCLEAN
March 25, 2008
Megan Meier's MySpace page resembles a typical teenager's at first glance. Music blares when it's opened, and there are several photos of Megan with hearts swirling around her smiling face. Her profile says she likes "hot guys" and "hip-hop."
But if you scroll down, a haunting image of an angel walking toward the gates of heaven makes it clear that this is actually a memorial page -- one that's been viewed more than 90,000 times.
In September 2006, Megan was just shy of her 14th birthday when she began an online relationship with a boy who called himself Josh Evans. Josh Evans was a hoax created by people who knew Megan. The fake friendship ended cruelly just six weeks later, and in the aftermath of that painful end, Megan took her life.
Each day, more people write messages and comments full of hope and outrage on her MySpace page. One message reads, "I really wish I had a chance to meet you. I wanted to meet the beautiful and smart girl that everybody talks about. I hope you're resting easy baby girl."
Megan also hasn't been forgotten by prosecutors, who have been stymied in their attempts to bring charges against someone in the case. In an unlikely twist, nearly 2,000 miles from Missouri where Megan Meier ended her life, the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles began its own investigation. In this case, the alleged victim is not Megan Meier but MySpace, which is based in Beverly Hills, Calif.
The prosecutor is trying a new tactic, gambling on a charge he thinks may stick: wire fraud.
'Technology Outpacing the Law'
The tragedy of Megan's suicide was compounded when it was discovered that the cyberfriendship that drove her to hang herself had been a hoax -- others posing as a fictitious boy.
The outrage grew when one of the young participants in the hoax came forward, claiming that she didn't act alone.
Megan's mother, Tina Meier, was told that a neighbor and woman she knew well -- Lori Drew -- the mother of a girl who lived down the street was aware of the creation of "Josh Evans," a fictitious MySpace account, along with her 18-year-old daughter.
"I blame the Drews," Meier said. "I blame them because they absolutely created this. They created an account. They created a false account to completely trick my daughter."
No criminal charges were brought against anyone by the state of Missouri.
"It's pathetic," Meier said. "It's pathetic that we as a society do not have laws to protect our children or to protect us in general from somebody being able to hide behind a computer and do these despicable things."
But the case is open again, thanks to the California prosecutor's attempt to charge Lori Drew with fraud.
Former federal prosecutor Laurie Levenson, who worked at the Los Angeles U.S. attorney's office for several years, says it is extremely difficult to prosecute such a controversial case, particularly because it involves the Internet.
"Technology is outpacing the law, and we have to have the laws catch up with technology including things like MySpace," Levenson said.
"In this case, prosecutors are searching around. We want to find her guilty of something. What can we get even if it's a stretch."
Prosecutors may claim Lori Drew defrauded MySpace by helping set up a bogus profile on its Web site in which she posed as a minor and targeted another minor, Megan Meier.
The 'Goofy Girl' Who Struggled to Fit In
"Megan was a goofy girl. Megan just giggled a lot," her mother said. "She was the class clown. She just found things very humorous that maybe other people didn't find funny. She would laugh hysterically."
But Megan Meier had battled bouts of depression since the third grade, telling her mother she wanted to commit suicide and cutting her arms.
"Seventh grade is when Megan had a really, really tough year," Meier said. "That was the year that Megan was really truly trying to fit in, and she just couldn't figure it out. You know and it's a tough year for a lot of children."
In the beginning of her eighth grade year, one boy seemed to appear on Megan's MySpace account out of nowhere. Josh Evans requested to be Megan's "friend," and at first her mother was wary.
"She had a new friend request and she looked at it and it was a picture of a really good-looking boy. She looked at me and said, 'Oh my gosh, Mom, he is so hot.' And I said, 'Do you know who he is.' And she said, 'No,' and I said then I don't think you should add him."
But Megan was persistent and Tina Meier relented.
"I was afraid that if I didn't that she would close down," Meier said. "And you know, we had been working very, very hard on opening up and talking and building that relationship."
Megan and Josh's initial instant message exchanges were harmless, but Meier sensed there was something off about her daughter's new friend.
"I was very open with her. I said, 'You know, Megan, we don't know who this person is. This could be a 48-year old pervert. This could be a 16-year-old person or a 20-year-old person. Remember, people can be anybody they want to be on the computer."
'Josh Evans' Is Created
Lori and Curt Drew had been a part of the Meier's life for years. Their daughter was the same age as Megan, and the two girls had been friends since elementary school.
"There was a lot of ups and downs with the friendship during that seventh grade year," Meier recalled. "One day they'd be friends. One day they wouldn't be friends. I constantly battled with Lori Drew, not a fight, but it was a constant call from her or a drive down the street if she'd see me."
Their friendship eventually ended, and now prosecutors may file a claim that Lori Drew, her daughter, and an 18-year-old family friend worked together to create Josh Evans' profile. The alleged motive was to find out if Megan was saying mean things about the Drew's daughter.
For weeks, the exchanges between Megan and Josh reflected a growing friendship. It wasn't until Oct. 15 that the exchanges started to get negative. Josh sent Megan a message saying, 'I don't want to be friends with you anymore because you're not nice to your friends."
A confused Megan wrote back asking about the abrupt change, but she didn't get a response. On Oct. 16 she went to school and handed out invitations to her 14th birthday party. She'd already picked out the polka-dot dress she was going to wear.
"She was in a good mood," Meier recalled. "She's come bounding out, running out of school and goofy."
After school, Megan returned home and rushed to the computer to see if Josh had responded to her MySpace message. She got another message that said, 'You heard me. I said you're not a nice person. And I don't want to be friends with you anymore.'
At 5 p.m., Tina Meier returned home from an appointment and found her daughter distraught. What began as Megan's attempt to understand why Josh Evans no longer wanted to be her friend had devolved into a barrage of insults with other kids joining in.
"All of Josh's friends and all of Megan's friends were calling Megan a whore, a fat ass. Calling her all kinds of god awful names," Megan's mother said, adding that she'd tried to stop Megan from stooping to their level. "I said, 'Megan, you know what, I am really disappointed with the words and the language that you're using. I mean you're cussing. You're calling people names. If you would have stopped for two seconds before you sent all this stuff, and stopped when I told you to, we could have worked this out."
Megan was upset at her mother's response. "She was crying and she said, 'You're supposed to be my mom. You're supposed to be on my side."
'My Heart Dropped'
Megan took off running up the stairs. Twenty minutes later, Tina Meier got a horrible feeling in her stomach.
"I hadn't heard from her, heard anything, nothing. And my heart dropped. I took off up the stairs, and I open the door and I just saw her hanging in her closet," Meier said,
That night the Meiers tried to contact Josh, but as quickly as he had come into Megan's life, he had vanished. The last two messages sent from him were "the world would be a better place without you, and have a s**t rest of your life."
Lori Drew's attorney, Jim Briscoe, said Drew didn't have anything to do with setting up the account. He said that Drew did not instruct anyone else to set up the account, did not communicate with Megan as Josh Evans, and did not send any e-mails to Megan.
"She was aware that this girl had created the account to try to find out why Megan was making mean comments about Lori Drew's daughter," Briscoe said.
"Her judgment was probably clouded by a mother's concern for her daughter who was having mean things said about her," Briscoe said. "She didn't think in a million years what happened would happen. That's why she didn't put a stop to it."
The criminal case could present many challenges for the prosecution and problems for others who may have defrauded MySpace.
Even if Lori Drews is ultimately charged, she would probably face little time behind bars if convicted, and it wouldn't bring back Megan Meier, "all of her dreams" and a future including "driving her car, having a prom, having a baby.
"She was supposed to get her braces off that day," recalled Meier. "Her black-and-white polka dot dress that she was going to wear, she wore it to her funeral."