Grindr conversation with ‘teen’ leads to Lakefield man’s conviction

Wednesday, November 29, 2017
Gregory Fitzloff

A Lakefield, Minnesota, man accused of using his smartphone to set up a sexual encounter with a teenager could have his felony conviction removed if he completes probation requirements.

Jackson County Attorney Sherry Haley said 48-year-old Gregory Fitzloff reached a plea agreement with prosecutors on Aug. 2 to one count of “electronic solicitation of children to engage in sexual conduct” for using his smartphone to solicit a child to engage in sexual conduct.

In exchange for the guilty plea, a second electronic solicitation charge was dropped. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and fined $1,200 on Sept. 13 in Minnesota’s 5th Judicial District Court. He also has to pay a $1,200 fine and serve 15 days in Minnesota’s “sentenced to service” program.

Haley said Fitzloff still has to follow all recommendations of a psycho-sexual evaluation. He must have no contact with persons under age 18, unless approved by probation and can’t access the internet without approval. The Lakefield man also has to abstain from alcohol and nonprescribed drugs, submit to random testing and have no possession of any pornographic or sexually explicit material.

If Fitzloff complies with all of the probation terms, his felony conviction will be reduced to a misdemeanor. Haley said he’ll still have to register as a predatory offender, pursuant to Minnesota statutes, as a result of his Feb. 10 arrest — as Jackson County deputies were entering his home, Fitzloff was locking himself in a bathroom on the main level of the house.

He had his phone with him.

“Deputy Brandon Haley and Deputy Adam Koch verbally ordered Fitzloff several times to come out,” a statement from Sherry Haley and Jackson County Sheriff Shawn Haken said. “When Fitzloff came out of the bathroom, Deputy Koch seized the phone from him.”

The phone appeared to be rebooting to its original settings — Koch saw “the Apple symbol and the progress bar,” according to the statement from Jackson County.

Authorities think Fitzloff was trying to erase his digital footprints, including the Grindr app, from his phone. Grindr is a social networking app geared toward helping gay and bisexual men meet each other for possible encounters. September’s conviction suggests the 48-year-old thought he was arranging a meetup with a 15-year-old boy for sex.

The conversation was actually taking place with Nicholas Riba — a member of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension's predatory crimes unit. The undercover agent and Jackson County Deputy Emily Martin posed as a Worthington, Minnesota, teenager during Feb. 7-8 Grindr conversations with Fitzloff.

Minnesota authorities released a transcript of the February Grindr conversation. Later portions of the exchange are too graphic for publication:

Fitzloff: Are u gay, bi, curious?

Agent: Think gay but friend said since I'm 15 I wouldn't know.

Fitzloff: Have u experimented with any guys? Or have dine [sic] anything with girls?

Agent: Never been with a girl. Just some touching with a guy.

Fitzloff: Nice. How much touching.

Agent: Just over pants.

Fitzloff: Nice.

Fitzloff: So are you in Worthington now?

Fitzloff then followed with a detailed conversation about sex and at least three photographs. The first two were of Fitzloff's face and shoulders. The other photograph was a picture of Fitzloff's genitals.

Fitzloff: Please. Can I see some pix of you. Only fair.

Authorities used the Jackson County Law Enforcement System, which confirmed Fitzloff's Lakefield address.

"It is also common knowledge that Fitzloff's employment is at a photography studio owned and operated by he and his wife in Lakefield," the statement from Jackson County said.

Deputies were at Fitzloff's house two days after the last Grindr conversation to make an arrest.

Fitzloff faced a maximum sentence on each electronic solicitation count of three years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine.

Jackson County authorities released information about the arrest to remind parents about the importance of safety online.

“The internet is a great and amazing tool,” Sherry Haley said in a comment to The Dickinson County News. “However, it carries some risks as does many other situations that our children are placed in on a regular basis. Talk to your children regularly. Develop a strong and trusting relationship with them so that they can come to you if they are having a problem. Keep frequent and open communication lines with your children so that you can talk to them on a regular basis about safe practices, both in the community and online.”

The Jackson County officials went on to say:

—Children and teens should never agree to meet a person that they have met online under any circumstances.

—If a child or teen is contacted by someone online who is attempting to meet them in person or asks them to send pictures of themselves, the child or teen should immediately report such contact to a parent, law enforcement or to the Cybertipline at 1-800-843-5678.

—Parents should actively monitor their child's online activity to help screen for any inappropriate contact and risks.

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