- Associated Press - Sunday, February 23, 2014

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - Child pornographers are increasingly using smartphones, so investigators said their skills are adapting along with the mobile technology.

In a recent case, a phone left behind at a Carrie Underwood concert in Fargo prompted a fast response that led to a man accused of dating women in order to exploit their prepubescent daughters for child pornography.

After the phone’s discovery, federal, state and local authorities quickly determined the identity of a girl at risk, got her out of harm’s way and then arrested the man, investigators said. They later found hundreds of sexually explicit images of children between the ages 2 and 6 years old, some as far back as 10 years ago, on his phone and other electronics located in a storage shed.

Dustin Muscha, 33, of Moorhead, Minn., was sentenced last month to 30 years in prison.

“The technology is continually evolving and the forensic investigators have to evolve with it,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Klemetrsud Puhl, who prosecutes most of the child pornography cases in the North Dakota district of federal court. “The same tools they used 18 months ago aren’t the same the tools they are using now.”

In this case, investigators were able to bring charges, in part, by matching up Muscha’s voice between a child porn video and a family video, the Facebook pages of Muscha and the mother of the victims, and tattoos on the mother depicting the birthdates of her daughters that were visible on another video.

The case started when someone found the Samsung Galaxy at the Fargodome in September 2012 and turned it over to a Sprint store. A store manager, while browsing phone files in an attempt to determine its owner, stumbled across a child pornography video and alerted police at about 5 p.m. on a weekday.

Forensic investigators worked through the night to determine how to find the girl in the video. They figured it out by the time she met the school bus at 7 a.m. the next day.

“They went to great lengths to rescue that child,” Puhl said of investigators. “That was their first priority.”

Muscha pleaded guilty in June to two counts of sexual exploitation of minors and two counts of possession of materials involving the sexual exploitation of minors. The investigation discovered 500 pornographic photos and 13 videos.

The mother of the girl who police rushed to protect was the woman Muscha planned to marry. Further investigation determined that Muscha had sexually explicit videos of two other children of another woman he dated. The fourth victim, from a video produced in 2002, involved the niece of a woman Muscha previously dated and wasn’t identified until authorities found additional files at Muscha’s storage shed.

Puhl said child pornography via cellphone is becoming more common because of the capability of smartphones. Although Internet providers are required by law to notify police if they find child pornography, prosecutors said the Sprint manager was especially prompt and helpful.

Sprint said its employees are instructed to cooperate with law enforcement.

“While we don’t generally comment on specific cases, we have protocols in place where we train our retail staff about our duty to immediately report any reasonable concern or possible evidence of a crime, including sexual exploitation and the proliferation of child pornography,” Sprint spokeswoman Stephanie Vinge said in a statement.

Authorities said they don’t know how the case would have unfolded had Muscha not left his phone at the Fargodome.

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