Miss America Talks About Testifying in 'America's Most Wanted' Sex Sting
OKLAHOMA CITY – Lauren Nelson is making plans to go where no Miss America has ever gone before — into a New York courtroom to testify against defendants in a sex sting — and she says she will be happy to do so.
Nelson, 20, posed as a 14-year-old girl last month as part of an undercover sting operation with the Suffolk County Police Department that led to the arrest of 11 men. Each is charged with attempted dissemination of indecent material to minors in the first degree.
Nelson, a Lawton native, said she talked Wednesday with Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota and agreed to testify in court. She also discounted earlier reports that she balked at testifying.
"Until yesterday at noon, I had not been asked to testify," Nelson said Thursday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "I started out with this operation to put online predators behind bars and off the streets, and I'm going to see that operation through to the end.
"If that means me testifying or being part of this criminal case in any way, that will be exactly what I'll do."
Nelson said she chatted online, talked on the telephone and greeted at least two of the defendants when they arrived at a home in Long Island, N.Y., to meet who they believed was a 14-year-old girl.
"I wore lighter makeup and I wore a ball cap, so I did appear to be 14," Nelson said.
The encounters were filmed for the television program "America's Most Wanted." Avery Mann, a spokesman for the show, said the men Nelson chatted with discussed in detail sexual acts they wanted to perform with her.
"All of them talked explicitly about sex and sexual acts," Mann alleged.
Despite the graphic nature of the sting operation, Nelson said she won't hesitate to testify and help send the men to prison.
"It was uncomfortable to see the things that these predators said, and it's going to be uncomfortable to talk about them out loud, but if that's what it takes, then that's exactly what I'll do.
Robert Clifford, a spokesman for Spota's office, said Nelson's involvement in the sting could be problematic for prosecutors.
"You end up getting into issues you normally wouldn't," Clifford said. "We just thought her participation could have been a little less prominent when it comes to the criminal justice part of the investigation."
John Powers, an attorney for 20-year-old Robert D. Accomando, one of the men charged in the sting, said Nelson's involvement was purely to boost ratings for the show.
"The appearance of a celebrity like Lauren Nelson to sensationalize was purely for entertainment's sake and ratings," Powers said.
"Police investigations are done by trained police personnel, not untrained civilians."
But Mann, the "America's Most Wanted" spokesman, said that while Nelson was used in the sting, the operation was run entirely by law enforcement professionals.
"This operation was just like any other operation or investigation we're involved with," he said. "It was in cooperation with law enforcement.
"Realistically, Lauren and 'America's Most Wanted' participated in this investigation, but the Suffolk County police ran this investigation."