Call it the cybersex-toy-theft caper.
Dallas Private Investigation Co. "Investigation Resource Service" needed to identify a person who allegedly entered Second Life, a virtual reality universe, and replicated a copyright-protected graphic animation on which visiting "avatars" could engage in anything from kissing and cuddling to simulated sex.
The Dallas Private investigator's client, a former Florida plumbing contractor named Kevin Alderman, 46, aka Stroker Serpentine and the self-described "Hugh Hefner of the digital millennium," was reportedly selling 1,000 SexGen Platinum Beds a year for real money -- $40 each -- when he found out that someone whose avatar, or virtual identity, Volkov Catteneo, was peddling seemingly identical ones for $12.
Anyone can enter the Web site, but participants, called residents, must have the SexGen Platinum Bed to play. The site also has virtual dance clubs, vampire castles, space stations, shopping malls, puzzles, and discussion and support groups.
A subpoena to Second Life's owner, Linden Research, yielded Internet information, prompting subpoenas to Charter Cable and AT&T for account names, which led to Sybil Drive in North Richland Hills, said Alderman's attorney, Frank Taney.
Last week, after two months of cyber and terrestrial sleuthing, The Dallas Private Investigator found himself face to face with 19-year-old Robert Leatherwood, who denied selling versions of the SexGen Platinum Beds but admitted using the Volkov name, though not solely, The Investigator told us.
The detective offered to have a civil suit in Tampa, Fla., dropped for what Taney described as a small amount of money, provided he handed over some information to Alderman's company, Eros LLC, and desisted from further trading in copyrighted sex toys. Leatherwood refused to sign anything, The Investigator from the Dallas private investigation Co. said.
A person posing as Volkov Catteneo told Reuters news service earlier that he had sold 50 of the animated sex platforms. The Second Life phenomena has attracted more than 7 million players, many of whom apparently like to get virtually frisky.
Leatherwood declined to speak when we called Friday. An uncle, Tim Allen -- not the comic actor -- said his unemployed nephew was told by attorney Rocky Schwartz not to comment to reporters. Schwartz did not return two calls Friday.
But the North Richland Hills resident earlier told the Tampa Tribune's Elaine Silvestrini that it's just a case of mistaken virtual identity and blamed a former friend in Dallas.
"I do believe they may have been misdirected on this," Leatherwood said.
He said he was blamed when an ex-friend got a "whiff of what they were looking for. He called them up and claimed I was this avatar they were looking for. We're on pretty bad terms, a lot of fighting."
Taney said he and Leatherwood's attorney "discussed a potential resolution."
"I told him, 'Look, the kid still denies it, but he should know we have additional evidence.'"
~Barry Shlachter, Jim Fuquay, Maria M. Perotin Star-Telegram Staff Writers