ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – In just two months, a special task force in New Mexico looked into 172 cases involving internet crimes against children, but agents say that number is just the tip of the iceberg.
“In the last year we’ve had cases involving a pastor, two pediatricians, a kindergarten teacher and a daycare worker,” New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said.
That’s why Balderas said there’s a need for a 256-person statewide task force.
“Regrettably we are playing catch-up,” Balderas said. “Predators are way out in front and they’re already in our homes, attempting to solicit our children.”
The task force is run through the AG’s office. It’s called Internet Crimes Against Children, or ICAC, and the seven agents who work out of the Albuquerque office are never bored.
“Twenty to thirty years ago the predators used JC Penney’s catalogs and they would mail child pornography to them, so you had a hard copy,” Special Agent Anthony Maez said. “Now that we have the internet…the way we investigate has changed dramatically.”
The task force has 85 affiliates around the state. Many are sheriff offices and police departments, but Maez said they can use all the additional help.
“There’s a lot of folks out there doing this, and for the population of New Mexico, it’s definitely a concern,” he said.
KRQE News 13 got the first look at the ICAC lab in Albuquerque. One side houses investigators, the other is where examiners work.
The seven agents and one analyst verify up to ten new tips a day. They collect evidence, extract data from chips and train on the newest technology.
Some of them are also undercover and talking to child predators online.
“I’ve been in law enforcement 29 years and the amount of training my folks have to go through in order to work these investigations is extensive,” Maez said. “The average examiner has 18 months in training before they can even touch a computer and the average investigator looks at about 6-12 months of training before they can start on any investigation.”
Maez said part of the extensive training is due to the increase of internet use and social media.
“My agents go through undercover training. Training at the national level,” Maez said. “It will teach them what words to use, how to talk like a child because we have to understand the population we’re dealing with.”
Like the case, ICAC tackled this week involving 40-year-old Otalee Brown.
According to a criminal complaint, Brown reached out to a 14-year-old girl through Facebook. Investigators said he asked her to meet in public. When her parents found out, they reported him to police and that’s when ICAC stepped in.
The agent, also a sworn officer, continued to write Brown, posing as the 14-year-old. Brown asked the girl if she wanted to go skinny dipping, then later admitted he wanted to have sex with her.
Tuesday, the agent arranged for the two to meet at the Sedillo Travel Center in Tijeras. When Brown showed up, special agents arrested him.
Brown was booked on child solicitation charges and was released from jail Wednesday.
Balderas said although this ended without physical harm to the child, they never want it to get this far.
“Education and prevention are where we’re aiming for,” Balderas said. “By the time we’re involved in investigating and prosecuting, we’re very fearful, at that point, that they’ve already harmed the child or impacted the family to some type of victimization.”
Balderas said ICAC holds lectures and trainings that the community can attend to learn more about how to protect children from these types of predators.
“Parents should be astech-savvyy as their children to really understand the threat,” Balderas said. “I think we underestimate how truly dangerous these predators are or to what extent they’re willing to go to get into your child’s life.”
So far this year, the task force has investigated 374 cases and made 56 arrests.