Calgary

How internet detectives tracked a child porn trail from Idaho to Red Deer

A tip from Google started detectives on a virtual chase through emails, phone records, social media and fetish sites that ended in the discovery of a trove of child pornography — and two arrests, including an Alberta woman accused of sexually assaulting her own young son.

WARNING: This story contains details that may be disturbing to readers

Peter Allen Cash of Nampa, Idaho was arrested in mid-May. Information from U.S. authorities later led to the arrest of a 43-year-old woman in Red Deer, Alta., accused of sexually assaulting and using her four-year-old son to make child porn. (Canyon County Jail)

A tip-off from Google first set U.S. investigators on the trail of an Idaho man who now faces numerous charges for possessing child pornography — including images of a four-year-old Red Deer boy allegedly abused by his own mother.

Peter Allen Cash now sits in an Idaho jail awaiting trial — but not before an internet trail of clues led police to an empty home, followed by a virtual chase through fetish sites and into a trove of pornographic emails, a painstaking chase revealed in U.S. court documents obtained by CBC News.

The 40-year-old from Nampa, Idaho, faces nine counts of sexual exploitation of a child after he was found with 44 videos and "hundreds of photos of child pornography on [his] phone," according to an affidavit filed at a Canyon County court in Idaho.

A 43-year-old Red Deer mother who worked at a licensed daycare is charged with using her toddler to make child pornography to send to Cash. Police are not naming the woman to protect the identity of the boy.

Google tip-off, Facebook hunt

Cash was busted by police in Idaho after Google reported an allegedly pornographic video involving children had been uploaded to his Google Drive on five separate occasions in January and February 2016, the affidavit alleges.

"When Google finds sexually exploitive material, they report such contraband to [the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children or NCMEC], and capture the IP addresses and account information," prosecutors wrote in the affidavit.

The roughly six-minute video shows a man raping a pre-pubescent girl and another sexually assaulting a six- or seven-year-old, among other child sexual exploitation crimes, according to the affidavit.

Police tracked the IP address provided by Google to Cable One, an internet service provider in the U.S. The home registered to the account was unoccupied, but police located the account holder on Facebook.

It's unclear whether police are alleging this account belonged to Cash or an associate of his, as parts of the affidavit have been redacted.

Under the suspect's "friends" tab on Facebook, they found pictures of a man and woman with links to FetLife, a social networking site for people interested in BDSM, fetishism and kink. 

Videos and cartoons

Investigators obtained warrants for two email accounts linked to the suspects, which yielded 28 gigabytes of information, but it wasn't clear from the redacted affidavit whether the accounts belonged to Cash.

Police allege they found a stash of illegal porn in the email accounts.

Peter would not tell us how long he has been downloading child pornography, but made it sound like it's been years.- Mike Nance , Office of the Idaho Attorney General

"I found 26 child pornography videos, with six of those videos having identified child victims through NCMEC," Officer Mike Nance wrote in the affidavit on behalf of the Idaho attorney general's office.

"I also found numerous cartoon-style drawings, with most of them showing young female children having sex with adult men or animals."

From the email accounts, police tracked down Cash's home address, using the latest IP account information registered with Cable One.

On May 18, police officers and Homeland Security agents knocked on Cash's door and asked to interview him.

He co-operated, speaking to police for about two hours and 10 minutes in the back of their truck, and admitting to downloading child pornography, according to the affidavit.

"Peter would not tell us how long he has been downloading child pornography, but made it sound like it's been years," Nance alleged in the affidavit.

Nance alleged that forensic detectives extracted 44 videos of child pornography from the computer in Cash's bedroom, and hundreds of photos from his phone during an initial search at the home.

A full investigation is now under way.

Cash arrested the day he planned to leave for Canada

When Cash told police he was planning to leave for Canada that day or the next — as soon as his passport arrived in the mail — officers moved quickly to arrest him.

Idaho police were able to identify a four-year-old boy in some emails of child pornography, and determined the child lived in the Red Deer area in central Alberta.

They contacted Canadian authorities, and on Wednesday, Red Deer RCMP arrested the child's 43-year-old mother, who worked at a licensed daycare in the city.

"This is a heinous crime that was committed on a young child by the one person they should be able to trust the most," said Insp. Dave Dubnyk, who oversees the internet child exploitation unit of the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams, on Thursday.

Insp. Dave Dubnyk, who oversees the internet child exploitation unit with the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams, announced details of the Red Deer child pornography case on Thursday. (CBC)

Dubnyk said the Red Deer woman has been released from custody under "strict conditions to ensure she has no contact with her child," who is now in the care of family members.

The mother has been charged with sexual assault, sexual exploitation, making child pornography, distributing child pornography, possessing child pornography and accessing child pornography.

She had no previous criminal record and was not previously known to police.

Her next court date is set for July 16 in Red Deer.

Cash is to appear in court in Idaho the same day.

About the Author

Ayesha Clough

Reporter / Editor

Ayesha Clough joined the CBC Calgary digital team in 2015. She got her start in print at the Vancouver Sun back in 2004. Since then, she has worked in TV, radio and web for the CBC, BBC News in London, and Al Arabiya in Dubai.