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Jefferson County internet crime investigation unit shut down for alleged ethical violations

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JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. -- A crime investigation unit under the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office that was dedicated to protecting children from online predators has been shut down.

The action comes amid accusations of ethical violations.

The Child Sex Offender Internet Investigations Unit was nicknamed "CHEEZO." Investigators in the unit pose as underage teen girls and engage with alleged online predators in an effort to prevent assaults before they happen.

“We go into all areas of tech and use the tech the same way the predators are using it to lure our children,” unit leader Mike Harris said in May.

While details of the alleged ethical violations haven't been released, a spokesman with the district attorney's office said it has to do with deception.

The problem is that in Colorado, lawyers and people working for lawyers can't engage in subterfuge, meaning they can't lie. The CHEEZO unit works for the district attorney and the fact that investigators work undercover is well-documented in news stories.

Criminal defense attorney Phil Cherner said because the officers work for the district attorney's office and assume the identity of young girls to try to find sexual predators, it could be a potential ethics violation of state rules.

He said he filed a complaint with the Colorado Supreme Court Attorney Regulation Council a year ago.

As a result, Jefferson County District Attorney Peter Weir is shutting down the unit.

"This could be viewed as a victory for all of the pedophiles out there. For all of the people who want to prey on our kids, they could be having another glass of beer and cheering themselves," he said. "I better caution them not to do that. Because these efforts are going to continue in some fashion."

Added Cherner: "The notion that public safety will be affected is a complete red herring because somebody can continue to do this if they think it's appropriate. The problem with the current program is that lawyers are doing it."

Weir said the CHEEZO unit will operate in some fashion, just not through its undercover online investigations. He said his office is also considering all options for future involvement with law enforcement.

CHEEZO has operated since 2005 and made 924 arrests, according to its website. There were 57 arrests so far this year.