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FBI won’t pursue child porn case involving mayor’s iPad

The FBI notified the North Las Vegas Police Department Thursday that it doesn’t have enough information from the department to take action on possible child pornography on Mayor John Lee’s iPad.

The Police Department turned the closed October 2014 case over to the FBI after a Review-Journal story in May.

The newspaper reported that police launched an investigation into Lee’s iPad after he asked a detective for help removing what he believed to be child pornography, according to a police report. Lee told police the porn came in an email, but police were never able to find the email, according to the report.

Police waited 11 days to pick up the iPad. A one-day investigation found porn on the iPad, but the detective wasn’t able to determine the ages of people pictured and closed the case, according to the police report. The detective then took the iPad to an Apple Store, had it wiped, and returned it to Lee.

A copy of the device’s contents was kept and given to the FBI, according to police.

Former Police Chief Joe Chronister told the newspaper in May he wished he had asked for an outside agency’s help.

Lee’s account to the Review-Journal differed from the police report. He told the newspaper he never approached a detective.

Lee has said he did nothing wrong. He could not be reached for comment for this story.

He told the newspaper in May he doesn’t look at porn and that he had his assistant call the police because he was worried children were being harmed by the person who sent him the email.

Police Chief Alex Perez, who took over in May, asked the FBI to review the case.

The FBI declined to comment, according to FBI spokeswoman Bridget Pappas.

“Due to a lack of prosecutorial evidence, this investigation remains closed by the North Las Vegas Police Department,” the department statement said.

Unclear evidence

It’s unclear how much there was for the detective to search through when he took custody of the iPad.

The browser history was the only place on the iPad with pornography, according to the report. The detective described the suspicious site and explained that there were two other sites “not illegal nature.” The description does not make it clear if the detective was describing two other porn sites or indicating a scant browser history consisting of only three sites total.

The police report doesn’t state if the iPad appeared to have been wiped before the detective picked it up, but what the detective found doesn’t explain what caused Lee’s alarm.

The porn in the browser history the detective noted as questionable was time stamped an hour before the detective picked up the iPad — more than a week after Lee notified police.

Joseph Dooley, a retired FBI agent who previously ran Connecticut’s computer crimes task force, questioned the delay. The Review-Journal contacted Dooley in May for his take as an expert in the field.

“If you suspect you have child porn on the device, that’s like having a kilo of cocaine sitting on your coffee table,” he said.

Neil Broom, a qualified expert witness in California on computer forensics, said if the iPad had been wiped before police picked it up, law enforcement wouldn’t be able to recover the deleted information.

The Review-Journal contacted Broom in May for his opinion as an expert in the field. He is a private investigator who often testifies for the defense in child pornography cases.

On newer Apple devices, once the information is wiped it’s gone, he said.

That said, it’s likely an email, if it existed, would still be recoverable in a server somewhere, Broom said.

Broom said he found the detective’s handling of the iPad to be mostly normal but said the scenario takes police out of their usual mindset and comfort zone.

“Detectives aren’t used to being errand boys,” Broom said.

Chronister, the former police chief, told the Review-Journal in May that Lee’s authority was a factor and that, in retrospect, he should have sought help from an outside agency.

“We’re talking about the mayor of North Las Vegas,” Chronister said. “He is a person of authority. He is a person of power. He absolutely has the ability to control certain aspects of our department.”

No more information

Police spokesman Aaron Patty said no more information would be provided on the case beyond the report and Thursday’s statement — including whether the two other links on the iPad were pornographic.

Patty also said the Review-Journal could not talk to the detective Lee had allegedly approached at City Hall.

Lee was adamant he hadn’t approached a detective in May, telling the Review-Journal multiple times, “I wouldn’t know what a detective looks like.”

Review-Journal writer Jeff German contributed to this report. Contact Bethany Barnes at bbarnes@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Find her on Twitter: @betsbarnes

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