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Cyberstalking law snags alleged violator

A Los Angeles area man is the first to be charged under a California "cyberstalking" law that went into effect one year ago.

A Los Angeles area man accused of using his computer to harass a woman who rejected his romantic advances is the first to be charged under a California "cyberstalking" law that went into effect one year ago, prosecutors said.

Gary S. Dellapenta, a 50-year old security guard, was being held in Los Angeles county jail on $300,000 bail, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office said. He is charged with one count of stalking, three counts of solicitation to commit sexual assault, and one count of unauthorized access to computers--the first time the 1998 law has been invoked.

At a court hearing last week, prosecutors accused Dellapenta of forging posts on America Online and other Internet services so that the messages appeared to come from the victim. The messages, which advertised that the woman harbored rape fantasies, provided the woman's address and other identifying information and invited men to visit her. Six men visited her apartment in response to the messages, prosecutors alleged. The victim, whom prosecutors declined to name, did not own a computer last summer, when the messages are alleged to have been posted. Dellapenta began harassing the woman after she rejected his romantic advances, prosecutors allege.

Dellapenta's attorney could not be reached for comment.

The case marks the first time prosecutors have used a recently enacted section of California's stalking law that added computers and electronic devices, said Jeff Jonas, who heads the target crimes division of the Los Angeles District Attorney's office. The 1998 amendment specifically makes it a crime to make a "credible threat" using electronic communication devices such as computers.

Jonas said his division, which prosecutes stalking cases, is seeing more instances of victims being harassed on line. "There's an increase [in online stalking] because anytime you have a technology advance there's a lot of good but there's always a downside."

He added that, because stalking crimes are based on communication, it is only natural that stalkers would use media such as the Internet as it gains widespread use.

Dellapenta is set to be arraigned on February 2.