Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.
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July 26–August 2, 2001

news

Not Tickled

The man behind TerriTickle gets six months for misusing the Internet.

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The judge called it "the troubling case of Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde."

David D’Amato, a meek, balding 40-year-old former high school educator, sat before federal Judge Douglas Woodlock in a Boston courtroom awaiting sentencing for the crimes of Terri DiSisto, notorious tickling fetishist, Internet terrorist and D’Amato’s alter ego who attacked Drexel University’s computer system and harassed a student there.

The public persona, David D’Amato, was "a remarkably successful citizen," said the judge, an assistant principal and director of guidance at West Hempstead High School in New York. The other, Terri DiSisto (a.k.a. TerriTickle), claimed to be a 23-year-old, perky blonde Boston College coed with a passion for watching videos of "HOT guys being tickled," who anonymously stalked, harassed and intimidated young ticklish men on the Internet.

In exchange for hundreds of dollars in cash, new computer equipment and/or concert tickets, young men made videos for Terri. (CP, "Tickle Me Terry," Feb. 5, 1998)

"As a hobby — one that costs me A LOT of money — I maintain the largest personal collection in the world of ‘made-just-for-me’ amateur videos featuring GUYS BEING TIED UP AND TICKLED by a girlfriend, good girl friend, girlfriends, or even guy friends," read TerriTickle’s solicitation.

But, as many ticklish guys soon discovered, making a video for Terri was just the beginning of a bizarre relationship.

In March, D’Amato pleaded guilty to two federal misdemeanor charges of computer fraud and abuse for his role in disabling the network computer systems of three universities, including Drexel University (CP, "Who’s Laughing Now?" April 5, 2001). He admitted that over the course of several years, he had terrorized and e-mail bombed hundreds of Internet users. In the case of the former Drexel student, D’Amato’s e-mail bombs to the university were spoofed to seem like they were sent from the student’s account, a retaliatory measure because he wanted to discontinue correspondence.

D’Amato also testified that he was "under the care of a psychiatrist for a mental-health condition… Internet addiction and job-related stress."

FBI Special Agent Daniel Romanzo, who attended the sentencing, said "it was not an easy case." D’Amato was tracked down in June 2000 by following "high-tech as well as low-tech aspects."

Published reports have detailed that D’Amato fabricated a Social Security number for Theresa DiSisto and obtained a credit card in her name to conduct business over the Internet.

D’Amato’s lawyer called his actions "reprehensible," but urged the court to consider the whole David D’Amato. On his behalf, colleagues and friends of D’Amato submitted letters to the judge testifying to his professional and personal competence.

More than a dozen of TerriTickle’s Internet victims also submitted letters to the judge attesting to the emotional harm they suffered at the receiving end of TerriTickle’s wrath.

Right before the sentence was handed down, D’Amato stood up and addressed the court. "Your honor, I would like to express my remorse and sorrow." He apologized to his mother and father, who were present, and to "every person in this courtroom who may have been impacted" by his actions. Finally, he pleaded for "mercy and compassion."

Also in the courtroom were two young men who had been among TerriTickle’s victims, including the former Drexel student who, as an 18-year old freshman, had his life turned upside-down by TerriTickle’s assaults. He declined the opportunity to address the court concerning his experiences, but was relieved that his ordeal had come to an end.

"I never thought I’d see this day," he said. Facing his former tormenter, he said he felt only "pathos and pity."

D’Amato was sentenced to six months incarceration in a halfway house and fined $5,000. He had already made restitution to the universities whose computer servers he damaged. D’Amato begins his sentence next month, in time for him to commute to law school at FordhamUniversity.

Many in the Internet community were disappointed that the sentence was so lenient. D’Amato had faced a maximum of two years in jail and $200,000 in fines.

"In my view, justice has not been served," said Charles Dirksen, a San Francisco lawyer who collected the virtual testimony from TerriTickle’s victims. "It was a mere slap on the wrist and doesn’t show an appreciation for the harm he caused. Nor does it deter future abuse."

"It’s scary that that’s all he got," said one college student who was harassed by D’Amato. "And it’s really scary that he’s going to law school."

Moreover, his victims say they’re disturbed that no legal restrictions are placed on D’Amato’s Internet access. "It’s scary he can use the Internet," says the former Drexel student.

And apparently TerriTickle still lives on in cyberspace. S/he has an Internet radio channel that broadcasts audio files of young men being tickle and tortured and talking about being tickled at www.live365.com/stations/136316. Created in August 2000 and last updated June 27, 2001 by a territickle of Boston, the sites’ broadcaster profile claims she is "a recent female graduate of a Boston college. I’ve been totally into TICKLISH GUYS and GUYS BEING TICKLED for as long as I can remember…"

The station’s playlist features "Tickle Torture" sessions that feature the howls and grotesque laughter of merciless tickling, interspersed with young men answering a questionnaire about their tickling experiences.

Interested parties are directed to her website, www.ticklishguys.com. "Please pay a visit. It’s legit and a deal may be available for you :-) Many industry and private references are available. This is not an ad — just an invitation."

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