CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE
By ERIC FREEDMAN
LANSING – Massive amounts of electronic data. A worldwide web that stretches, literally, around the globe. A network of purveyors and viewers of child pornography.
And grim, grim stories that reflect the high-tech ways that law enforcement agencies investigate such crimes.
Using the latest forensics technology, federal and state agencies collaborate on many child exploitation cases through the Michigan Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, according to State Police Detective Sgt. Jay Poupard.
He coordinates the task force, which is part of the State Police’s computer crimes unit that has offices in Livonia, Rockford, Traverse City, Bridgeport and Lansing and will soon open offices in Coldwater and Marquette.
When it comes to technology, consider the interrelated related cases of Mark Tooley, 41, of Vicksburg; his 40-year-old girlfriend, Crystal Runyon of Kalamazoo; and David Gors, 44, of Imlay City.
Tooley, who recorded himself performing a sexual act with Runyon’s 2-year-old granddaughter, recently began a 35-to-50-year state prison term, the Kalamazoo County prosecutor’s office said.
That case began with a tip from an electronic service provider, Poupard said. Companies such as Twitter and Facebook aren’t required to look at all the material their users post but must notify law enforcement agencies if they come across child porn.
Authorities say Tooley, who pleaded guilty to criminal sexual conduct and possession of child sexually abusive material under state law, possessed thousands of child porn images and distributed sexually explicit photos on Twitter.
Meanwhile, the FBI had a separate investigation underway into Gors’ alleged child porn activities that ultimately led to Tooley’s girlfriend, Runyon.
Affidavits from FBI Special Agent Henrik Impola, filed with the criminal complaints against Runyon and Gors, illuminate the complexity of such inquiries.
Impola is an expert trained in data intercept methods and digital crime scene documentation. According to his affidavits:
The FBI tagged Gors, who pretended to be between 20 and 25, for using “multiple social networking sites and online identities for the purposes of having relationships with underage girls and acquiring nude images of them.”
Gors communicated with his victims, such as a 14-year-old Alabama girl, through websites and Skype, including five-night-a-week Skype conversations for about a year. The girl’s mother discovered her nude photos on a laptop and notified the FBI.
The FBI then obtained records from Yahoo and an Internet provider that led to identifying Gors. Investigators traced his IP – Internet protocol – address to a variety of email addresses used in communicating with almost 70 girls aged 13 to 17.
Authorities obtained a search warrant for his home, where they seized his cell phone, a desktop computer and tablet.
Gors then “confessed to using multiple online identities to entice children into online relationships,” Impola wrote in an affidavit. “He has been manufacturing his own collection of child pornography via social networking communication with underage females for at least the last three years.”
And that led to Runyon, who communicated with Gors by text messages, including sending him pictures of sex acts involving Tooley and her 2-year-old granddaughter and involving herself with a small dog.
Investigators traced Runyon through her phone number on Gors’ contact list. Other links were found through Runyon’s Facebook account and online profiles.
Runyon confessed to sexually abusing her granddaughter, according to Impola’s affidavit.
Runyon and Gors are in jail while negotiating plea deals to resolve federal child porn charges, according to records filed in U.S. District Court in Flint.
Meanwhile, the FBI is continuing its forensic evaluation of computer devices seized in the case and attempting to identify the victims in the images.
The State Police’s Poupard said, “Offenders like to maintain a cache of videotapes and images so they can go back and review them when they choose.”
Each photo or video has a unique “digital fingerprint” known as a “hash value.” When investigators discover previously unknown images, they’re added to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children database, Poupard said. The national database now holds about 3 million images.
That establishes that there was a real victim and the victim’s age for use if the same photos or videos show up in later cases.
“We document the age of the children at the time,” Poupard said.
“In a perfect world, we could hit an erase button,” he said. It’s not a perfect world, but “our ultimate goal is to protect the innocence of the children.”
Additional resources for CNS editors:
Michigan Internet Crimes against Children Task Force: www.michiganicac.com
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children: www.missingkids.com/home.