TV helps FBI catch child-porn suspects

`America's Most Wanted' gives national exposure to unidentified photos

March 04, 2004|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The favorite TV show at the state prison in Michigan City, Ind., is America's Most Wanted.

So it wasn't much of a stretch that when the show broadcast a picture of an unidentified man wanted on child pornography and abuse charges, a prisoner recognized him. From a pay phone, the prisoner called the show's tip line two weeks ago and reported that he saw the guy all the time - in his prison.

That call led to the arrest of Scott Hayden, 44, an inmate since 2000 who was serving a 30-year sentence on child molestation charges.

Perhaps more striking is that FBI investigators from the Baltimore field office were able to bring an indictment against Hayden and spread his picture on television and the Internet without ever knowing his name.

Finding John Doe

Hayden's arrest resulted from a 3-week-old initiative that, with the aid of America's Most Wanted and the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore, has brought results in that and another case through what officials call "John Doe warrants": Authorities have no name or address nor any idea who a suspect is. They just know what he looks like.

Officials said the warrants were a breakthrough in child abuse and child pornography investigations. Until now, they relied on lucky breaks and confessions to identify the men in thousands of photographs and videos that the Baltimore field office has collected.

Agents are now sifting through boxes of pictures gathered from the Internet and suspects' computers and listing all the other "John Does" they have wanted to catch for years.

"I watched America's Most Wanted the night the first one aired," said Kevin L. Perkins, special agent in charge of the FBI's Baltimore field office. "The next day, one of my agents called and said, `You'll never believe this: We got one of the guys.'"

The Baltimore field office has the task of handling most of the bureau's child sex crimes cases nationwide through its "Innocent Images" program.

3,000 arrests

The program, which has led to more than 3,000 arrests since 1995, tailors its investigations to the Internet. That's where officials say most of the trade in child pornography over the past decade has taken place.

Officials say men - the suspects are almost always male - will often photograph themselves in sexual acts with children. Then they post the pictures in chat rooms or trade or sell them without having to leave their house, collect a package or disclose their identities.

Last Saturday night, a week after officials identified a picture as Hayden, America's Most Wanted posted another set of pictures.

This time, the photos were of a man investigators say they have now identified as Thomas Richard Evered, a 39-year-old truck driver from Montana. Evered's sister persuaded him to turn himself in, and he surrendered in a grocery store parking lot in Montana, officials said.

Evered was charged with sexually abusing a young boy with whom he photographed himself.

"These guys think they are safe," John Walsh, host of America's Most Wanted, said at a news conference yesterday at FBI headquarters. "They do these terrible crimes and hide behind the Internet. Those days are over. This is the future."

Walsh's 6-year-old son was kidnapped and later found murdered in 1981. Walsh pledged yesterday to work with the FBI and post as many pictures as possible, saying he now sees the bureau as a partner, unlike when his son was abducted:

"This isn't the FBI I encountered 22 years ago. I was turned down flat when I came to them for help. They said, `We don't get involved.' ... I prayed a day like this would come."

"You get the indictments," Walsh told bureau officials, "we'll put them on the air."

Officials from the FBI and the Justice Department said that, for a while, they have wanted to test the idea of whether they could produce a warrant without an identity in these cases. Their efforts were hampered by fears that lookalikes would be mistakenly arrested, they said.

Investigators also had nowhere to publicize the photos.

The TV factor

"The biggest difference now is America's Most Wanted," said Drew Oosterbaan, chief of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the Criminal Division of the department, which brings many of the cases. "The success of that program certainly gave rise to this. This is an innovative use of John Doe warrants."

Stacey Bradley, a supervisory special agent in the Baltimore FBI field office, said investigators have identified eight children so far from the photos and videos attributed to Hayden and Evered. She said they fear there could be dozens more.

In the cases of the eight, Bradley said local police and FBI field offices have reached out to the parents, none of whom apparently were aware that their children had been abused or that their photos were on the Internet. Officials said most of the children so far appear to be from Montana, Wyoming and surrounding states.

On Saturday, America's Most Wanted will post the next photo montage of an unknown man who was indicted last week. Officials said video and pictures show him sexually abusing two unknown boys.

"It's still occurring every day to our children in the United States," Bradley said. "They're all over the Internet."

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