App Utilizes Public Input to Capture Predators

A new smartphone app launched by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) just over a week ago has already produced positive results.

The Operation Predator App enables those who download it to receive alerts about wanted predators, to share the information with friends via email and social media tools, and to provide information to HSI by calling or submitting an online tip. Additionally, the app enables users to view news about arrests and prosecutions of child predators and additional resources about ICE and its global partners in the fight against child exploitation.

Less than 36 hours after the launch of the Operation Predator App, a Michigan man profiled in the app was arrested.

Mark Robert Austin was arrested Friday afternoon without incident by HSI and FBI special agents along with officers from the Michigan State Police in the Flint, Mich., area after numerous tips from the public were called in to the ICE tip line. Following the national and regional publicity generated by the app’s announcement, several members of the public called in tips indicating known areas Austin frequented.

The criminal complaint and arrest warrant for Austin was signed April 30 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan and unsealed Aug. 2. At that time, HSI had little information about his exact whereabouts, but he was believed to be living in southeastern Michigan. Austin was charged with allegedly downloading more than 100 images and nearly a dozen videos of child pornography.

He is currently being held on state charges of distribution of marijuana. Additional details about the arrest are being withheld pending his initial appearance in federal court to answer to the child pornography charges.

“One of the primary goals of this app was to make the world a very small place for suspected child predators to hide,” said William Hayes, acting special agent in charge of HSI Detroit. “The arrest of Mr. Austin certainly proves that goal was accomplished.”

This investigation is part of Operation Predator, a nationwide HSI initiative to protect children from sexual predators, including those who travel overseas for sex with minors, Internet child pornographers, criminal alien sex offenders and child sex traffickers. HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-347-2423 or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators.

Another case highlighted by ICE involves an unidentified man wanted for producing child pornography involving the sexual abuse of a 10 to 12-year-old girl. This “John Doe” is an unknown suspect and is believed to be living somewhere in the United States or Canada, but he could be anywhere in the world. The first video file was discovered by Interpol and submitted to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in 2006. The full series was last seen by HSI special agents in Los Angeles in 2013 during execution of a search warrant. The four videos show the prepubescent girl being sexually abused by an adult male with short brown hair and blue eyes. In the videos, the offender has a full beard and wears glasses. Both he and the child are seen in a room with wood paneled walls with framed photos, a black computer, desk with sewing machine and brown patterned curtains.

In addition to profiling John Doe cases like this, the new smartphone app contains photos and information about known fugitives in HSI criminal cases involving sexually abused and exploited children.

“When children are being sexually abused and exploited, it’s a race against the clock to rescue the child and bring the predator to justice,” said ICE Acting Director John Sandweg. “These investigations are one of our highest priorities, and in today’s world, we need to be technologically savvy and innovative in our approach.”

The app can be downloaded here.

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