Elburn man arrested, charged with online solicitation

By on May 30, 2014

ELBURN—Peter J. LaSalle Jr., a former board member for the Elburn Youth Baseball and Softball League and local den leader, was arrested on May 16 and charged in connection with child sex crimes in Virginia.

Authorities in Staunton, Va., issued a warrant for LaSalle’s arrest, charging him with two counts of online solicitation of a minor and one count of taking indecent liberties with a minor, and asked the Elburn Police Department to assist in taking him into custody.

Elburn police officers waited for LaSalle to leave his house on the 800 block of Morrill Lane that morning, pulling him over a block from his home at 6:40 a.m., Elburn Police Chief Steve Smith said. A search warrant for his home was also issued.

“Since they are in Virginia and we are here, (the Staunton Police) asked for our assistance in arresting him and seizing computers and all that,” Smith said. “It happens when there are Elburn residents involved in something and the other jurisdiction is not close.”

James A. Shapiro, an attorney representing LaSalle, said that his client should not be convicted in the court of public opinion.

“Pete LaSalle is presumed innocent of these charges, and I know that’s sort of a fiction in the court of public opinion, but it’s the truth in a court of law and under the Constitution,” Shapiro said.

He described LaSalle as “a pillar of the community.” LaSalle is a family man with two sons and a steady job that he has held for 18 years, and he has served as a volunteer den leader and baseball coach, Shapiro said.

“We ask the public to respect the presumption of innocence,” Shapiro said. “He is about as fine a citizen, notwithstanding these charges, as he could have possibly been.”

LaSalle’s arrest is part of an ongoing effort by the Staunton Online Solicitation Task Force, which is part of the larger Southern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. The task force has officers online, posing as underage girls and waiting to be approached by potential predators.

“Basically, they just get online and use their skills and training to make contact with these individuals,” said Jennifer Stevens, the public information officer for the Staunton Police Department. “They don’t seek them out. They just sit and wait.”

According to the task force, LaSalle, 44, contacted an undercover officer who was posing as a 14-year-old girl, and sought a sexual act, Stevens said.

She said the task force typically arrests eight to 14 people for online solicitation in each two-week period. Eight others were arrested on similar charges at the same time as LaSalle, all men living in Virginia, Stevens said.

Smith said that the Elburn Police do not know of any local children who were contacted.

“There are no victims in Elburn, or none that we are aware of,” Smith said. “We don’t have any reason to believe that there are. We don’t know that 100 percent, but as far as we know from this investigation, there are none.”

LaSalle served as a volunteer and board member for the Elburn Youth Baseball and Softball League for several years. Ron Vohs, the current president of EYBSL, confirmed that LaSalle is no longer a member of the organization, but would not say when LaSalle left his position.

EYBSL does background checks on all volunteers who have contact with players.

“While a member of EYBSL, Pete passed every background check he ever took,” Vohs said.

The organization had no further comment.

Shapiro noted that the allegations against LaSalle do not involve his work with the Boy Scouts or EYBSL, and he said that LaSalle has been experiencing a tremendous outpouring of support from the community.

“Even the allegations themselves don’t involve any same-sex solicitation,” Shapiro said. “They involve teenage girls, one officer posing as a teenage girl in Virginia.”

LaSalle was taken to the Kane County Adult Corrections Center and released on May 17 after his father posted $50,000 bail. Pete will be extradited to Virginia for trial. Under Virginia law, he faces a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison if convicted, with a maximum sentence of 30 years, for the online solicitation counts.

Elburn Police said that local parents will have to decide for themselves whether to discuss the matter with their children.

“There’s no one way that will fit every family situation,” Smith said. “Parents will have to know their children and what they feel comfortable talking to them about.”

Smith urged all parents to monitor their children’s Internet usage, noting that cases of online solicitation are on the rise throughout the country.

“Pay attention to what your kids are doing, to their computers and their cell phones and who they are in contact with,” he said. “Kids don’t understand it, when there are people out there who could hurt them. Even teenagers, parents should be looking out for their best interest, because parents have the life experience and children don’t.”

Smith also urged parents to report any inappropriate contacts their children receive to the police.