St. George man in jail after detectives allegedly find 500 images of child porn

File photo of a Washington County Sheriff's Office vehicle, St. George, Utah, Jan. 30, 2018 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A St. George man is in jail after an investigation conducted over the course of two years allegedly found more than 500 files of child pornography in his possession.

Mitchell Anderson, 33, was arrested Wednesday and faces 10 second-degree felony counts of sexual exploitation of a minor.

The arrest stems from an investigation that began in November 2017 when a tip received by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s cybertip line reported that someone had uploaded an image containing child pornography.

The case was forwarded to the Utah Attorney General’s Office’s Internet Crimes Against Children division — a multi-jurisdictional task force that investigates and prosecutes individuals who use the internet to exploit children.

Agents discovered the user account originated in the St. George area and sent the file to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, an ICAC affiliate, where it was assigned to a detective who “ran with it,” Sheriff’s Sgt. Nate Abbott told St. George News.

Mitchell Anderson, booking photo posted in Washington County, Utah, Aug. 21, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Washington County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

A search warrant was served upon the internet provider, and the subscriber information revealed Anderson was the account holder.

Through the course of the investigation, authorities determined that the images were either uploaded or attached to a Dropbox account, according to the affidavit of probable cause filed in support of the arrest.

Detectives viewed a portion of the more than 500 images and videos included in the national center’s report and found that each depicted prepubescent children engaged in sexual acts or were nude photos of children.

During an interview with police, Anderson allegedly admitted to owning the Dropbox account and also admitted to having files containing child pornography.

Additionally, Anderson admitted that he “knowingly shared these files on several different occasions through anonymous platforms,” the detective overseeing the case noted in the affidavit.

Anderson was arrested and booked into Purgatory Correctional Facility Wednesday afternoon where he remains on $100,000 bail.

According to the affidavit, the number of charges submitted to the Washington County Attorney’s Office for review represented one count for each of the 10 randomly selected videos that “depicted adult males and females engaged in sexual acts with prepubescent male and female children.”

Multi-jurisdictional investigations

In cases like that which led to the arrest of Anderson, tips received by the Center for Missing and Exploited Children are screened using a process in which the images or videos are compared to known images maintained in a massive database to determine if they depict unknown victims or if they are images that have been in circulation for some time.

If the images contain unidentified children, the reports are expedited to prevent further victimization and to quickly arrest those responsible.

“All reports are high-priority investigations, but when it involves a case where active abuse is suspected and the victim is being victimized, it gets pushed to the top to prevent the child from suffering further abuse,” Abbot explained.

The cases are then forwarded to the Utah Attorney General’s Office and go through another screening process by ICAC agents to determine where the crimes are taking place within Utah — in this case, the St. George area.

Cases in the St. George area are then assigned to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, which is an ICAC affiliate and serves as the enforcement arm to handle cases where the internet is used to transfer images involving children. The Dixie State University Department of Public Safety also has trained ICAC task force agents.

Abbot said it can take an enormous amount of time for detectives to collect and process the evidence, to secure warrants and to see the investigation through, particularly when it involves internet providers and online accounts where search warrants are required, such as was the case in the Anderson investigation.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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