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BELFAST, Maine — Two years after Maine State Police was tipped off about alleged sexual exploition of children, a Winterport man was finally arrested this week.
Despite the graphic content of the tip, the case initially was, according to a police report, deemed “low priority.”
The Winterport man, who had fled the state, is accused of sexually assaulting and taking pornographic pictures of two children — an autistic child and a two-year-old. He is being held on $50,000 cash bail.
Steven Mathis, 32, was arrested in Texas on Nov. 16 and brought back to Maine on Monday. He is charged with two counts of gross sexual assault and two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, all Class A offenses that could carry a maximum penalty of up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000. A fifth charge, possession of sexually explicit materials, is a less severe offense that could carry a penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine of as much as $5,000.
Although the Maine State Police Computer Crimes Unit received a tip about two images — one computer generated — from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in September 2019, it wasn’t until recently that the alleged crimes were thoroughly investigated.
The day investigators got the tip, they submitted a subpoena request to the office of the Maine Attorney General to get the IP address associated with the user named “steve.mathis.754” who shared naked images of a child on Facebook. But because of a clerical error, no subpoena was issued until November 2020, when someone from the state police got in touch with the attorney general’s office to ask about the results, according to the state police investigation report.
The case was eventually assigned to Det. Taylor Bagley of the Maine State Police on Feb. 17, 2021, but it was back burnered. According to Bagley’s report, it was coded by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as a “low priority.”
“Upon viewing the cybertip, I found no signs of production or aggravating factor[s] that would cause me to raise it in priority on my ongoing case load, which was and continues to be significant,” Bagley wrote.
He didn’t start his investigation into the matter until nearly nine months later on Nov. 11, 2021.
That was months after Maine State Police began investigating a tip that Mathis was sexually abusing children.
In August, state police received a complaint from a woman about comments Mathis allegedly made about sexual encounters with children. During the text message conversation with a woman, Mattis spoke about sexual contact between him and a minor girl.
When troopers went to Mathis’s home on Taylor Lane in Winterport to ask him about the conversation, they knocked on the door for several minutes before Mathis finally answered it. He told police “the conversation was part of a fantasy chat with someone he was speaking to online,” Bagley wrote. During the interview with troopers, Mathis admitted to having viewed sexually explicit material of minors online, but told them the photos were of bikini-wearing girls who were about 10 years old.
When one of the troopers asked if Mathis had committed sexual abuse on children, he initially “minimized and denied abuse,” but eventually admitted to sexually abusing three children, the detective wrote. One of the children was autistic. Another was two years old.
Mathis admitted to taking explicit photos of the children, which he shared with “other men online” before deleting them.
Police took Mathis’s cell phone and placed it into evidence, but it wasn’t examined right away. At some point after that, police said Mathis fled the state, heading to Texas out of fear of the investigation.
In November, as Bagley began his investigation, he connected the user from the cybercrime tip with Mathis. He learned about the ongoing investigation, and other incidents, including an Oct. 24 report to Bangor police saying that Mathis had threatened suicide by jumping off a Bangor bridge.
Bagley located and met with Mathis’ girlfriend, who said that “Mathis is very protective and secretive of his phone.” In August, when troopers came to their house, he told her not to open the door and that they would leave eventually. Mathis also expressed fear that “he may go to jail” but didn’t explain why
A search warrant for the cellphone was issued on Nov. 12 by Justice William Stokes and a state police computer forensic analyst who looked at it that day found 35 images of children. They were in “various stages of undress, exposing genitals and engaged in sexual acts with an adult male,” Bagley wrote.
Mathis’s girlfriend confirmed the identity of two of the children in the photos. She also identified some of the children’s bedsheets, clothing, floor carpeting, baby gates and toys in the photos as items from the home in Winterport.
By then, Mathis was living with his father, Kenneth Mathis, at his home in Whitney, Texas. Kenneth Mathis is a sex offender, and his current address is listed on the Texas Sex Offender Registry, the detective wrote.
Officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Texas Rangers and the Hill County Sheriff’s Office worked with the Maine State Police to apprehend Steven Mathis. He was flown back to Maine and remains in police custody on Wednesday, with cash bail set at $50,000. If Mathis is able to make bail, he is to have no contact with any children under 16 years of age.
He was arraigned by video Wednesday afternoon.
The investigation is ongoing, police said, with additional charges expected and possibly more victims of sexual abuse and exploitation to be identified. Any information about additional victims should be forwarded to the Maine State Police Computer Crimes Unit, according to police.