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Minnesota sex offender's online actions to be monitored

While serving his 15 years of probation, a man convicted of having sex with a teen he met online in South St. Paul will be monitored on Facebook, Skype and other sites.

While serving his 15 years of probation, a man convicted of having sex with a teen he met online in South St. Paul will be monitored on Facebook, Skype and other sites.

During sentencing this week, Dakota County District Judge Arlene Perkkio also ordered Brandon Scott Gabel, 21, of Fargo, to serve 180 days in jail for third-degree criminal sexual conduct, a felony Gabel pleaded guilty to in August.

Probation restrictions on an offender's computer usage are becoming more common for crimes involving sexual assaults, harassment and child pornography, said Phyllis Grubb, supervisor for the Dakota County Community Corrections department.

In rare instances, she said, specific sites are named, such as in Gabel's sentence. In those cases, the sites are usually named because they were a part of the crime.

There continues to be an increase statewide in computer-related crimes involving the Internet and social media sites, Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said.

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"We're seeing it in the form of harassment, stalking and, in some cases, with the intent to engage in inappropriate sexual contact," Backstrom said.

The widespread use of smartphones, laptops and other devices seems to be fueling it, too.

Gabel told police he drove from North Dakota to Minnesota on May 28 to have sex with the girl, whom he met online when she was 14, a criminal complaint said. He pleaded guilty to that offense. The girl told police Gabel picked her up and drove to Lorraine

Park, 756 S. Third Ave., in South St. Paul.

The girl, now 15, told authorities it was the second time she had seen Gabel in person. The two met online in December when she was 14 and began communicating through emails and phone calls, the complaint said. They met in person and had sex for the first time in March, she said.

Gabel confirmed with police that he met the girl online when she was 14. But he denied having sex with her when they first saw each other in March, the complaint said. Gabel said he knew the girl's age and was told by her mother to leave the girl alone.

They stopped talking briefly after that, he said.

Gabel's attorney did not return a message seeking comment Friday.

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In the sentence, Perkkio said Gabel can request an early discharge from his probation after five years. He also received a stayed sentence of three years in prison, which he will not serve if he abides by probation. As part of the 22 probation requirements, Gabel must register as a predatory offender and complete a sex offender program.

He received credit for 91 days served.

"Fifteen years is a significant period of probation," Backstrom said. "When someone is using the Internet and related technology to contact a victim for sexual purposes, that's a serious issue. It's appropriate that the use of his technology...is restricted."

Grubb said she began noticing court restrictions on offender computer use about eight years ago. Since then, it's become part of many probation conditions.

Probation officers monitor offenders online by routinely searching their computers with software -- which is sometimes downloaded on their computers -- that tracks websites visited, pictures viewed and items deleted, Grubb said. If offenders are able to have Facebook accounts, officers have the passwords to access the accounts.

The county has about 10,000 offenders on active probation, Grubb said. About 335 of them are convicted sex offenders, but not everyone's computer usage is being monitored.

Maricella Miranda can be reached at 651-228-5421. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/ mariwritesnews.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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