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Home World News Washington Post World News Electronic sniffer dog helps arrest pedophilia in Mexico

Electronic sniffer dog helps arrest pedophilia in Mexico

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MEXICO CITY — An unusual alliance of international activist groups, Mexican prosecutors and a dog trained to detect memory devices joined forces this month to capture a high-profile suspected pedophile in Mexico City.

First, Free a Girl, a Netherlands-based anti-trafficking group, tipped off activists from the US-based Operation Underground Railroad that Jason Maatman, a Dutch man who openly advocated sex with children, had gone to Mexico after fleeing for pending lawsuits in the Netherlands.

Maatman apparently thought loose Mexican law enforcement would allow him to operate freely in Mexico City, a sprawling metropolis of 21 million people where most crimes go unpunished.

But he didn’t count on Hidu, a recent graduate of a dog academy who teaches dogs to smell triphenylphosphine oxide, or TPPO, a chemical coating used in electronic devices like flash drives and memory cards.

“Three weeks ago we learned that Nelson M. appeared to be active in Mexico and posed a serious danger to children,” said Evelien Hölsken, director of Free a Girl. She said the group had contacted Underground Railroad “and asked if they could start an investigation”.

Maatman was apparently so sure of himself that he spoke openly about his activities on the Internet. But Mexican prosecutors were willing to cooperate with the non-governmental organizations.

Operation Underground Railroad, or OUR, quickly hatched a plan to trap Maatman, using the chat rooms and social media spaces he was active in.

“We were able to confirm that he was in Mexico and then spoke to him in several chat rooms. He said, ‘I’m in a very dangerous, run-down area. I don’t want to give you my address. I don’t want you to come to me, but you can come and see me at a gas station,” said Matt Osborne, OUR Director of Global Operations.

Mexico City detectives were waiting when Maatman turned up on June 5 at a bus station — near a gas station — on the edge of the city’s main park.

Prosecutor Ernestina Godoy said Maatman was in possession of a gun and multiple doses of cocaine.

Maatman is being held in a Mexico City prison on charges of human trafficking and possession of drugs and weapons. He does not have a lawyer and could not be reached for comment.

“We understood that he was receiving offers from other people who wanted to do business with him,” apparently to sell or monetize a wealth of sexually explicit material involving young children, Osborne said. “He said he needed money.”

The problem was that he was caught at a bus stop – not at his house – and no one knew where he lived. No one knew where he would have hidden child pornography, which is usually kept in digital form.

City prosecutors used a network of street-surveillance cameras to trace Maatman’s movements to a dingy apartment he rented on the rugged east side of the city. Tall and with red hair, the Dutchman stood out in that area.

Once the police got a search warrant, Hidu came in; a black lab, he was trained by Todd Jordan at his Jordan Detection K9 academy in Indianapolis, Indiana.

TPPO is a chemical used in small, solid-state memory devices to prevent overheating. There’s just enough of his signature dog scent to pinpoint it.

Jordan began training “accelerator detection” dogs, seeking evidence in possible arson attacks in which an accelerator — things like gasoline — may have been used to start a fire.

But the electronics sleuths he’s trained — now 83 and more — have become increasingly popular as criminals now use flash drives to store everything from contacts to cryptocurrencies used in drug deals.

“I think the electronics dogs have now surpassed the accelerator canines just because of the need for them, and just because of the way the world is now,” Jordan said. “These dogs, I mean just anyone. Any cybercrime task force could use one of these.”

Hidu was brand new to work; he’d graduated just two weeks before, and this was his first case—in fact, it was the first foreign case to handle one of Jordan’s dogs.

Operation Underground Railroad took Hidu and his escort to Mexico City, where prosecutors were about to search the apartment.

“It’s my understanding that there was a cell phone hidden in a laundry basket with nothing but rancid, horrible laundry, you know, dirty clothes in a corner no one would go in,” Osborne said. “The dog found that phone.”

Hidu found more child pornography taped to a wall under a painting, Osborne said. “The dog sniffed at some hard drives in a few places in his apartment that were hard for people to find, but the dog sniffed at them.”

Prosecutors said the drives and devices contained about 4 terabytes of child pornography images.

Godoy, the district attorney, praised Operation Underground Railroad and Hidu for helping with the arrest.

“The message is clear to those who prey on a girl, a boy or an adolescent: in Mexico City there will be no room for impunity, and those who hurt or target them will be found, tried and convicted.” said Godoy.

But questions remained. “Why was he (Maatman) not placed on an international wanted list?” by the Dutch authorities, Hölsken said.



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