DETROIT — A Michigan man who was captured last fall after the roll out of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations' (HSI) Operation Predator smartphone app was sentenced Monday to 97 months in prison.
Mark Robert Austin, 49, was arrested Sept. 13, 2013, without incident by HSI and FBI special agents along with officers from the Michigan State Police in the Flint area after numerous tips from the public were called in to the ICE tip line. Austin's arrest came less than 36 hours after the announcement of the smartphone app, which was designed to solicit information from the public about wanted suspected child predators.
At the time of Austin's capture, HSI had little information about his exact whereabouts, but he was believed to be living in southeastern Michigan. Austin was charged with downloading more than 100 images and nearly a dozen videos of child pornography. He was sentenced to eight years in prison followed by seven years of supervised release. He was also ordered to register as a sex offender.
"While this lengthy prison sentence cannot restore the lost innocence of the child victims depicted in those images and videos, it is truly gratifying to see this case come to a successful conclusion," said Marlon V. Miller, special agent in charge of HSI Detroit. "Sadly, the Internet and related technological advances have expanded the reach of predators looking to ensnare a child, but as this investigation demonstrates, technology is also a critical law enforcement tool. HSI will continue to leverage emerging technological advances to turn the tables on child predators seeking to corrupt the innocent."
Since its fall 2013 inception, the Operation Predator app has been downloaded more than 92,000 times from the iTunes App Store. An Android version is currently under development.
This investigation was conducted under HSI's Operation Predator, an international initiative to protect children from sexual predators. Since the launch of Operation Predator in 2003, HSI has arrested more than 10,000 individuals for crimes against children, including the production and distribution of online child pornography, traveling overseas for sex with minors, and sex trafficking of children. In fiscal year 2013, more than 2,000 individuals were arrested by HSI special agents under this initiative.
HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators. Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST.
HSI is a founding member and current chair of the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies and private industry sector partners working together to prevent and deter online child sexual abuse.