MIT postdoc arrested in Colorado in sex sting

Yaron Segal arrested by undercover agent, was deemed flight risk and denied bail

MIT mechanical engineering postdoc Yaron Segal, 30, was arrested on March 28 for allegedly arranging a sexual encounter with what he thought was a mother and her two underage children.

Segal, who is originally from Israel and received his PhD in physics from Yale last year, flew to Grand Junction, Colorado from Cambridge, Mass. for the meeting and was instead arrested by federal authorities. According to the criminal complaint of USA v. Segal, he was charged for willfully traveling “for the purpose of engaging in a sexual act with an individual under the age of 16 years old and … with an individual less than 12 years old.”

The mother was in fact undercover Special Agent Vanessa Hipps of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigation. Hipps stated in the affidavit that beginning on Feb. 2, Segal had been corresponding with her undercover persona by chat, email, and phone. She discovered in mid-March via Microsoft Online Services that the email address Segal had provided was opened in New Haven, Connecticut, and was in use in Cambridge, Mass. Hipps soon confirmed Segal’s identity, and they arranged to meet after he purchased flight tickets to Grand Junction.

On March 29, Assistant Professor Tonio Buonassisi in the Department of Mechanical Engineering submitted a letter from his perspective as the principal investigator (PI) of MIT’s Photovoltaics Research Laboratory (PVLab), in which Segal worked. Buonassisi described Segal as a “productive” postdoc who “is a leader within [his] research group, closely mentoring five graduate students” and “[engages] in projects for communal benefit.”

Despite this account, last Wednesday, Segal was denied bail and remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshal, with the court determining that he was a flight risk and that “there are no conditions of release that can be imposed, which would assure [Segal’s] continued appearance before the court.”

According to the criminal information sheet associated with the case, Segal could face a maximum 30 years of imprisonment and/or a maximum $250,000 fine if convicted.