W5: Is money clouding the motivations for 'Creep Catchers'?
Published Monday, February 20, 2017 2:15PM EST
A nationwide network of online vigilantes says they’re out to get the predators they believe are targeting children online.
But when the amateur vigilantes aren’t confronting their targets on video, they appear to be trying to make money.
In Calgary, the founder of the cross-country “Creep Catchers” network, Dawson Raymond, advertises Creep Catcher bumper stickers, t-shirts and takes donations.
The Creep Catchers in Surrey, B.C. ask their supporters to “like” their Facebook page, donate cash, and buy $55 hoodies.
“Everybody knows that we’re out here 24/7 doing this and we have really nice hoodies, good quality, at a good price, and they want to show their support,” said the Surrey Creep Catchers president Ryan Laforge.
But critics say that drive for cash could be obscuring their original mission of protecting kids, giving them pressure to post videos whether or not their allegations are justified.
“What’s the real purpose here? Is it to catch a pedophile, or is it to advertise yourselves?” asked social media educator Sean Smith, who has challenged the Creep Catchers in a Facebook group of his own.
Smith looked at the viewership of the hundreds of videos, and estimates that the potential to make advertising money is huge.
“They’re social entrepreneurs, in the worst sense of the word,” he said. “They could be making thousands of dollars.”
A W5 documentary called “Creep Out” has explored how online pedophile hunters go undercover as children to expose appalling internet behavior. They out their targets in video confrontations on their Youtube and Facebook pages, and their supporters share them widely.
But the documentary also uncovered how apparently innocent people have been targeted as well, with their name and videos appearing on their websites even though chat records show no sexual content in their communications.
Requests for cash spread out over the group’s social media networks. And people appear to be responding, announcing their donations in Facebook comments. One woman said she gave a lump-sum donation to the Surrey branch of Creep Catchers of $3,000.
The Surrey chapter president, Ryan Laforge, told W5 that the money goes to pay for gas, expenses, and cell phone bills. He says it just covers expenses for their mission.
“We’re non-profit,” Laforge told W5. He admitted he draws a salary personally, but said it was less than $1,000 a month.
But there’s no record in the B.C. provincial registry of a non-profit organization called Surrey Creep Catchers. And a former Creep Catcher tells W5 the bank accounts of the organization are run by Ryan Laforge personally.
Marie Bullon was the president of another chapter, the Fraser Valley Creep Catchers. She worked with Laforge on the sting that led to the conviction of a Chilliwack man on child luring charges. She said she helped raise $3000 at a fundraiser in October. But she believes the money didn’t end up paying for Creep Catchers’ operations.
“Not a single one of us saw any penny of that,” she said. “It was meant to go pay for gas, and phone bills.”
Laforge agreed to let W5 see financial records of the Surrey Creep Catchers. But when we asked, he didn’t provide them.
It turns out Laforge has had money troubles for years. He declared bankruptcy in 2007, with a total debt of more than $115,000.
Last year, a court ordered him to repay $9,100 in installments, but his bankruptcy trustee told W5 in February that he isn’t paying. Court documents say almost all of that debt was related to three at-fault car crashes he had while he wasn’t allowed to drive.
In one crash, documents say he failed to stop for the police, went over an embankment, flipped the car, and hit a house. That was while he was serving a conditional sentence for cocaine trafficking, one of seven convictions uncovered by W5.
When asked if his track record should give donors concern about how he handles their money, he said, “You’re basically insinuating things that aren’t true,” and ended the interview.
The group’s founder, Dawson Raymond, also went to Facebook to raise money for charity through the Creep Catchers. In Facebook posts, he details a bottle drive that he claimed raised at least $500 for the Calgary charity Servants Anonymous.
When W5 checked, Servants Anonymous couldn’t confirm the donation. Both Raymond and Laforge have said in Facebook posts or interviews that they are unemployed outside of Creep Catchers. Raymond did not agree to an interview request from W5.
Bullon quit Creep Catchers, and is now starting her own group, called “Block Guardians.” She says her mission will be to work with the police and not strive to make money. She says she doesn’t need cash from her new group to pay for her cell phone bill because she has a day job.