By Jonathan Saltzman and Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff
WARWICK, R.I. -- Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch took aim at Craigslist today after announcing that his office was seeking charges against Philip Markoff for allegedly attacking a third woman he met through the classified ad website.
The attacks at hotels in Warwick and Boston against three women who advertised on Craigslist should serve as "a stark, horrific reminder that there are predators out there," Lynch said.
"The guy from Craigslist was on TV," Lynch said, alluding to an interview with a company official that aired last week. "He said it was only one incident. I think it was totally irresponsible. It was a murder."
The alleged murder to which Lynch referred was the fatal shooting of 25-year-old Julissa Brisman on April 14 at the Boston Marriott Copley Place hotel, a crime being prosecuted by the Suffolk District Attorney's office. Lynch appeared today at a press conference in Warwick to announce that a judge had signed a warrant seeking four charges against Markoff for allegedly attacking a prostitute at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Warwick on April 16.
The warrant, signed by Judge Stephen Nugent, seeks charges of assault with intent to rob, assault with a dangerous weapon, possession of a handgun, and use of a firearm while committing a crime of violence. Markoff will likely not be formally charged in Rhode Island for at least six months and will not be arraigned there until after his Massachusetts charges of murder and armed robber are adjudicated. Markoff has pleaded not guilty those charges in Boston Municipal Court and is being held without bail at the Nashua Street Jail in Boston.
The Globe reported last month that Craigslist has taken steps to curb illegal activity on the Internet, although many law enforcement officials are urging the company to do more. After pressure from attorneys general in 40 states last November, Craigslist agreed to cooperate with authorities and donate the money it makes from erotic advertising - including blatant prostitution promotions -- to charity. Craigslist founder Craig Newmark said in a statement posted on the Huffington Post blog on April 17 that the company always helps "the cops out fast with the help they need from us, but they tell us not to comment on current investigations."
In Warwick today, authorities provided few details about that case. They would not release the name of the alleged victim or her husband. Saying they did not want to compromise the investigation, authorities also would not discuss reports that Markoff had been linked to the attack in Warwick through a fingerprint and text-messages sent by a hand-held device.
A law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation told the Globe last month that investigators found one of Markoff's fingerprints in the hotel in Warwick, where a man tried to rob a 26-year-old prostitute. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, also said that Markoff had been traced to the crime scene by text messages sent from the area by a hand-held device moments after the attempted holdup at the Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites.
The official did not know who received the messages, but said investigators were able to pinpoint the location of the device used to send them by analyzing the traffic on local cellphone towers.
The two Rhode Island assault charges carry prison terms of up to 20 years apiece, authorities said, and the other two charges each carry 10 year terms.
As the president of the National Association of Attorneys General, Lynch said he has worked with law enforcement officials across the country to get Internet companies including Craigslist to be better corporate citizens. The companies had made some strides to improve online safety such as requiring traceable credit cards to place erotic ads, Lynch said, but more needs to be done.
The Internet is a wonderful technology, Lynch said, "but it allows a very dangerous vehicle into your home as well."
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