Target Letter

A target letter is the means by which the federal government informs someone he is the target of a criminal prosecution. I received my target letter in July of 2010, nearly eight months after the FBI interrogated me.

Please be advised that you are the target of a federal criminal investigation by the United States Attorney's Office… Having reviewed the circumstances involved in this case, I believe it is appropriate to formally charge you with the offenses related to distribution, receipt, and possession of child pornography in this matter by seeking an indictment from a federal grand jury. However, I am prepared to consider negotiating a plea agreement with you as an alternative to presenting this case for indictment.

I had tried to forget everything about that day the investigators came. I shredded the search warrant papers and the FBI agent's business card. I told no one. Out of mind, out of sight. But holding the target letter in my hands made it all real again. I could no longer deny what was happening, or what I'd done.

I came clean to my boyfriend the day the letter came. Child pornography and criminal indictments were subjects I had no experience in discussing, so I chose the cowardly route and sat him down and let him read the letter himself. He stopped part way.

"I don't get it," he said. "What is this?" He looked confused and frightened. But I didn't want to say the words aloud, so I pointed to the letter and insisted he keep reading.

He did, reluctantly, and when I saw his expression turn from confusion to shock I knew it was then that he'd reached the words "child pornography."

I kneeled on the floor beside him, placed my head in his lap and told him everything. I told him about the interrogation, the search warrant, about how I'd lied when I said I'd dropped and broken the computer.

Instead of walking out on me or calling me a monster, which is what I'd feared, he told me that once, when he was nineteen, he exchanged nude pictures with a fourteen-year-old freshmen from his high school. The boy's parents, both police officers, discovered the pictures and had threatened to press charges.

His own tears came as a small comfort.