By jULIA JOHN-SCHEDER & CLAUDIO MARTINO
The Russian owner of a fetish website used by the New York City police officer accused of conspiring with others interested in cooking women testified in court by video on Tuesday that the site is an environment for fantasy not crime.
Sergey Merenkov, the 34-year-old owner of DarkFetishNet, refused to travel to New York from his home in Moscow to testify in court. But he recorded his testimony in Russian on February 19 explaining the origins and intentions of his site.
Merenkov and his business partners intended to create a Facebook-like website revolving around clientele with unordinary fetishes, he testified. The site lists asphyxiation as the number one fetish, cannibalism, and necrophilia also rank highly on the site. Merenkov insisted, “Fantasy is one thing, reality is a completely different thing.”
In his testimony, Merenkov detailed the site’s structure and statistics:
The site has no verification system other than a prompt to assert that the user is at least 18 years old. The site boasts a total of 38,000 total users, though only 4,000 to 4,500 are frequently active. Of that number about 25 percent are women, though there was no guarantee that they weren’t men masquerading as females. Seventy percent of the users are based in the U.S. while most of the rest are spread across Western Europe.
On the site, users commonly engage in role-play. “For instance,” he said. “A woman portrays herself as a victim and others play the role of stalkers.”
Merenkov’s testimony marked the beginning of the defense case after the prosecution rested on Monday
Defense Lawyer Julia Gatto damped speculation that the so-called Cannibal Cop would take the stand in his own defense, telling Manhattan Federal Judge Paul Gardephe that he had decided not to do so.
Under cross-examination, Merenkov said he had no information on Valle who deleted his account in September.
Valle was arrested in October after his wife discovered a series of “disturbing” chats and handed the computer over to the FBI. He was charged with conspiring to kidnap, kill, and eat women. In addition, he faces a charge on illegally accessing a national crime database to obtain information on potential targets.