Former Belfast detective joins child porn unit

Posted Jan. 11, 2010, at 8:36 p.m.
BELFAST -- Detective Mike McFadden is leaving the Belfast Police Department after 19 years to join the Maine State Police Computer Crimes Unit as an investigator. That agency tracks down child pornographers, among other tasks. &quotAs far as I'm concerned, this is some of the most demanding work and some of the most important work a police officer can do," he said last week. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY ABIGAIL CURTIS
BELFAST -- Detective Mike McFadden is leaving the Belfast Police Department after 19 years to join the Maine State Police Computer Crimes Unit as an investigator. That agency tracks down child pornographers, among other tasks. "As far as I'm concerned, this is some of the most demanding work and some of the most important work a police officer can do," he said last week. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY ABIGAIL CURTIS

BELFAST, Maine — The little girl with two different-colored eyes was striking — and in the worst kind of trouble.

Photos of the girl, who was 6 or 7 at the time, being sexually assaulted were spreading through the dark corners of the Internet worldwide in 2007. There was only one clue to her whereabouts: A beer can in one of the photos was of a type that was distributed in just seven states on the East Coast.

When the girl’s plight came to the attention of Detective Mike McFadden of the Belfast Police Department, he resolved to help, and that help turned out to be one of the first steps toward his new position with the Maine State Police Computer Crimes Unit. McFadden is leaving his job in Belfast for the CCU, where he will in-vestigate Internet pornography cases and help other children like the little girl.

McFadden originally alerted the CCU about that case in 2007, and they got behind his quest.

“It wasn’t a matter of jurisdiction. It wasn’t a question of, ‘Let’s give this a try,’” he recalled last week. “It was, ‘We’re going to find her. Let’s do it.’”

On McFadden’s instigation, Maine State Police Computer Forensic Analyst Dawn Ego over three months tracked the girl down in Maryland — one of the states identified through the beer can — by using information from the make and model of her pink Disney eyeglasses.

“We contacted every ophthalmologist and optometrist in seven states,” Ego said last week. “We were kind of hitting it from all angles. About two months later, I had a doctor who positively identified her in Maryland. … There’s no better feeling in the world.”

After that case, McFadden was hooked.

“That’s pretty rewarding,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, this is some of the most demanding work and some of the most important work a police officer can do.”

When the Maine State Police Computer Crimes Unit received grant funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to hire two new investigators for two years, McFadden eagerly applied, and was hired, along with Detective Frank Stepnick of the South Portland Police Department.

In a couple of weeks, they will join Detective Laurie Northrup, the unit’s only current investigator, in tracking down child pornographers and other computer-using criminals. Investigators McFadden and Stepnick will work in the field by procuring search warrants, interviewing suspects and seizing evidence, among other responsibilities, according to State Police Sgt. Glenn Lang. Forensic analysts such as Ego work at the CCU’s Vassalboro office, pulling information out of computers that are brought to her.

It’s a field that is growing “by leaps and bounds,” according to Lang, who said that while the two new investigators will be a boon to the department, it’s still not enough to allow the chronically underfunded unit to catch up with its backlog of child porn and other cases.

Lang said the Department of Public Safety has received roughly $450,000 in federal grants to pay for the two investigator positions for two years, as well as two years worth of salary and expenses for an existing analyst.

“The reality is, these two people aren’t going to dent the surface,” he said. “The dissemination of child pornography is rampant. Then, you throw in exploiting children, enticements — people just don’t have really any concept of how bad it is.”

Lang said there are now 250 known targets in Maine of people in possession of “really hard-core prepubescent” child pornography with images of children from 2 months to 10 years old.

“It is truly shocking to see these pictures or videos. They’re just terrible,” Lang said. “They’re despicable. Knowing that these people are out there in our communities now, and we’re not kicking their doors in — it’s discouraging.”

But McFadden, who has been a Belfast detective since 2005 and a member of the police force since 1991, said he hopes to hit the ground running.

“There are a lot of cases waiting for us,” he said.

He already has experience helping to solve computer crimes in Belfast, including investigating financial malfeasance and assisting the state police with the case of Amber Cummings, who was convicted of shooting to death her husband, James Cummings, in December 2008. James Cummings’ computer later was found to contain child pornography, and he had materials in his home suitable for making a so-called “dirty bomb.”

McFadden joins a department that has been busy solving high-profile national and international cases, despite being short-staffed and underfunded, according to Lang.

Ego in 2008 helped identify a Georgia man who made violent child pornography when she was able to pick out identifying details in the videos, including the pattern of a bedspread in a hotel room.

The case of the little girl with different-colored eyes, which has been code-named the DNKY case, ended with hefty sentences for two men found guilty of conspiracy to produce child pornography and sexually exploiting a minor to produce child pornography, among other charges. Joseph Vieson III, 43, of Annapolis, Md., was sentenced in October to 45 years in prison. Co-defendant Timothy Malcolm Beers, 47, of Bowie, Md., was sentenced in May to 36 years in prison.

“When you think about little old Maine solving these international cases time and time again, it’s pretty amazing,” Lang said. “There is no other job that will ever have that kind of reward at the end of it.”

acurtis@bangordailynews.net

338-3034

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