March 16, 2010

Maine computer sleuths rescue porn victimCONTINUED FROM THE FRONT PAGE

DAVID HENCH

— By

Courtesy Dawn Ego: Dawn Ego works for the Maine State Police Computer Crimes Task Force and was instrumental in solving a child pornography case involving a James Huskey of Lafayette, Georgia.

Staff Writer

The violent sexual abuse of a young girl was getting worse and federal investigators feared for her life.

The crimes depicted in Internet files seized from child pornography rings across the globe were escalating, and so sickening the FBI took the unusual step of issuing a bulletin to state computer-crime investigators around the country, looking for help.

The Maine Computer Crimes Unit, a division of the Maine State Police -- and particularly computer forensic examiner Dawn Ego -- scoured the FBI images for clues to the identity of the mystery monster and his helpless victim, a child of 9 whose violation over a period of four years had been captured in pictures and video. The man never appeared on camera without a mask or his face blacked out. The crime scene was non-descript, in some cases a hotel room.

Working with the most rudimentary information shown in the pictures, Ego and her fellow investigators were able to take the coloring of pictured bed linens and through relentless research identify the hotel where one of the movies was made, and then identify the man who made it.

''It appeared the abuse was becoming more and more brutal, using weapons toward the tail end of it. Obviously, my concern was to catch this guy before it was too late.''

Federal, state and local police in LaFayette, Georgia, raided the house of James Bartholomew ''Bart'' Huskey, 38, on Monday night, arresting him on federal child pornography charges and rescuing the girl, who confirmed her years of abuse. It had been three weeks since the FBI issued its urgent request for help.

The career case is an example of inspired police work with a healthy dose of good luck and has everyone in the unit feeling euphoric, said Sgt. Glenn Lang, head of the Maine Computer Crimes Unit.

''We rarely get to actually participate in saving a child,'' said Lang, whose unit often recovers images of child pornography to help charge suspects with distribution. ''It kind of beats you down a little when you always know you're on the losing side of things, never able to actually help the child themself, just stop the material from circulating.''

''It's so exhilarating to get on the front end of it. It's probably the best feeling in the world,'' he said.

The FBI was alerted by authorities in Australia two years ago that they had uncovered a child pornography distribution ring that had been successful in cloaking their activity using passwords and sophisticated computer encryption. The FBI investigation uncovered extremely disturbing images which appeared to have been made very recently, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney in northern Georgia.

An extensive investigation by the FBI managed to extract some details, including two car descriptions that may relate to the case -- a sunburst orange Pontiac Aztek and a white van. But they were still far from identifying the suspect and feared they were running out of time.

They issued a bulletin to Internet Crimes Against Children units around the country, a federally funded program of which the Maine Computer Crimes Unit is a member.

The May 23 bulletin included about a dozen images.

''We were trying to take some novel approaches because the FBI had already worked this extensively,'' said Lang.

The team included Lang, Ego, Tina Plourde, Inez Dudley and Charles Howe and was assisted by the State Police intelligence unit.

The team began analyzing every detail in the images for clues. As they immersed themselves, Lang requested the entire FBI file, 1,800 pictures and videos.

Ego zeroed in on images that appeared to have been taken in a hotel room.

She has only been with the unit for about a year. Previously, she spent more than six years as an officer with the Oakland (Maine) Police Department investigating computer and sex crimes. She then worked part-time for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in computer forensics before applying for the civilian job with the Maine State Police.

A mother herself, on this case she was relentless.

''You combine luck with someone who is incredibly aggressive and diligent and who went after the thing with a vengeance, it just came together like no case I've ever seen,'' Lang said.

Ego was able to find the manufacturer of a bow made from ribbon that was seen hanging on one of the walls, announcing the birth of a child. Based on the hospital shops and florists where the manufacturer's product was sold, Ego narrowed the location down to 17 mostly southeastern states. It was a start.

They asked other state computer units to do the laborious job of checking car registration lists for an orange Aztec.

Ego started working the bed fabric. She made random calls to hotel chains asking where they got their linens. One put her onto a person who knew fabric types, who led her to the company that made the fabric. That led to the manufacturer who used the fabric to make bedding, and to their distributor and their customer list.

It wasn't easy. Lang said the unit relied on Assistant U.S. Attorney Gail Malone for subpoenas to get company records quickly.

Sometimes, there were dead-ends, such as when the leads sent them to a hotel in Arizona, outside the 17-state zone.

''When you take two to three of our initiatives and combine them, we had these crosshairs focusing on these areas in South Carolina and Georgia,'' Lang said. ''When it resolved, it resolved in a very specific location.''

The clues led them to a hotel in Carrolton, Georgia. A redacted picture from one of the child pornography images was sent down electronically, and an employee at the hotel confirmed it was definitely one of their rooms.

Investigators had determined the movie was possibly made July 27. Ego asked about an orange Aztek that day but the hotel manager recalled no such car and there was none in the records. Ego asked about a white van. That triggered something.

The man had paid cash and did not formally check out, the manager told Ego. The woman rooted around in the hotel attic and was able to find the photocopy of the driver's license, which she had made when he registered.

''Once I knew this was the guy, I just couldn't hang the phone up quick enough to notify my sarge,'' Ego said. ''Everybody felt the same way in the office. We wanted to open up the windows and scream for joy.''

Ego passed the information on to the FBI. Lang called her that night at home and said the FBI was planning to try and rescue the girl that night.

''I was kind of waiting on pins and needles,'' she said. Lang called at 11:15 p.m. Monday.

''He said 'She's been rescued, she's safe and he's been arrested,' '' Ego said.

According to court records, Huskey admitted sexually abusing the girl -- who authorities did not identify -- and distributing images of the abuse. The girl told police she had been abused as recently as the night before.

''This defendant allegedly produced a notorious series of images of child sexual abuse that have circulated around the world, with demand from the most hard-core and despicable child porn consumers,'' said U.S. Attorney Nahmias in a written release.

Huskey is a longtime tennis professional in LaFayette, according to Georgia press reports, having trained a number of middle and high school tennis players. His two children have been taken into protective custody by Georgia state authorities, according to the U.S. Attorney.

Huskey will appear before a federal magistrate in Georgia on Monday for a bond hearing.

Lang said the case shows the value of hard work and good fortune rather than some sophisticated CSI technique.

''I personally feel the magic is in deciding what is worth going after and what is not,'' he said. ''If you pick the wrong item you really end up chasing your tail for a long time. If you pick the right item, all of the sudden things start resolving very quickly.''

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@pressherald.com

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