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The tip that kicked off a child pornography investigation into Eliot Cutler late last year was one of more than 1,200 Maine law enforcement received in 2021 from a national nonprofit group that serves as a national clearinghouse for leads on such cases.
The investigation into Cutler, a two-time former gubernatorial candidate, began with a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Hancock County District Attorney Matt Foster told the Bangor Daily News last week.
The center has played a key role in bringing child pornography offenders to police attention in Maine and across the nation.
Cutler was arrested last Friday on felony charges related to possession of child pornography.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children runs an operation called the CyberTipline that takes reports from the public and electronic service providers — such as Google and Meta, owner of Facebook — on the suspected sexual exploitation of children.
The center received more than 29.3 million reports of suspected child sexual abuse material, or child pornography, through its tip line last year. More than 90 percent were reported by Facebook or other services owned by its parent company Meta.
The national center in turn passed on 1,236 of those tips to the Maine State Police Computer Crimes Unit, according to Acting Lt. Tom Pickering.
When fully staffed, the unit has 10 detectives and special agents, plus nine computer forensic analysts and two intelligence analysts. The unit is led by a lieutenant along with two sergeants and a civilian supervisor, Pickering said.
An assistant attorney general is assigned to work with the center. In Cutler’s case, that assistant attorney general, Paul Rucha, reviewed material from investigators and helped put together the initial search warrant that allowed police to search Cutler’s property.
The Computer Crimes Unit also works with investigators from local, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies to investigate what Pickering called “the growing number of child exploitation crimes that are occurring in the state of Maine.”
An analyst in the Computer Crimes Unit reviews every tip it receives from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Pickering said. The analyst searches through publicly available information and coordinates the request for information on the identities of people associated with specific IP addresses.
From there, detectives review the case and decide how to move forward. If they investigate, detectives conduct a deeper search for information than the analyst’s initial review. That investigation can include surveillance of a suspect’s address, the seizure and search of electronic devices, and more behind-the-scenes forensic analysis of evidence including computers and other electronic devices, Pickering said.
The computer crimes unit has received 593 tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children so far this year, he said.