Target Letter

A target letter is what a prosecutor sends someone to inform them that they are the target of a federal investigation and may be indicted by a grand jury. I received my target letter in July of 2010:

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 tried to forget everything that happened that day in the interview. I shredded the search warrant papers along with the FBI agent’s business card. Out of mind, out of sight—that had been my policy for nearly a year. But now, holding the target letter in my hands, I could no longer deny what was spelled out in front of me.

I told my boyfriend the day the letter came. Child pornography and criminal indictments were subjects I had no experience in discussing, so I went the cowardly route and sat him down and let him read the letter himself.

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

He continued reluctantly and when his expression turned from confusion to shock, I assumed it was then in the letter he had reached the words “child pornography.”

I broke down and explained everything to him from the beginning. I told him about the interview with the FBI, the search warrant, how I had lied about what happened to the computer. I kneeled on the floor in front of him and, with my head in his lap, begged for his forgiveness.

Instead of walking out on me or calling me a monster, which were what I had feared would happen, he confided in me and told me that when he was 19, he and a 14-year-old freshmen from his high school exchanged nude pictures and explicit text messages. The boy’s parents, who incidentally were both police officers, found out and threatened to press charges.

Regardless of which is the lesser of the two evils, it was comforting to be reminded that I, like everyone else, am human and capable of mistakes.