Special agent protects kids from Internet crimes
Former police detective Anthony Maez’s retirement lasted less than a year, and he couldn’t be happier about it.
In 2008, soon after leaving a 20-year career with the Albuquerque Police Department, Maez joined the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office to help fight two growing felonies: Internet crimes against children and human trafficking, in which children and adults are forced into slavery.
Today, Maez is commander of New Mexico’s Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, as well as special agent in charge of the state’s Human Trafficking Task Force.
Starting as a coordinator with ICAC, Maez drove all over the state and met with officials from federal, state and local agencies to enlist them in the task force. “It was time-consuming but well worth it,” he recalls. “We started with just six agencies, and we now have 68.”
The network includes the FBI, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, state district attorneys and tribal law enforcement agencies. Members are trained in how to investigate and prosecute cybercrimes against children, and they rely on each other for help.
Building on his success, Maez was tapped last year by the state attorney general to organize another cross-disciplinary team for the human trafficking task force. It was a natural segue, since human trafficking and ICAC cases often overlap. Predators entice young people online, Maez says, then meet them and “traffic” them into another state or country.
He invited local advocacy groups to join this task force to help bridge cultural gaps. “We have an international community here,” Maez says, “and some cultures are not as open to cooperating with law enforcement.” Community advocates can help identify signs of human trafficking, he notes, when victims may fear coming forward.
In both jobs, Maez draws on his experience as a police officer. “With every agency, I go and serve the very first search warrant right along with them,” he says, noting that the ICAC Task Force efforts are paying off. Last year, ICAC agents made 91 arrests.
Inspired by a young girl who was a sexual abuse victim, Maez tackled a new project in 2010: computer forensic labs. New Mexico had only two such labs, so cases sometimes stalled while evidence was processed. The girl had told him she was constantly reminded of her attack while waiting for her abuser to be held accountable. “Every morning she thought about telling a courtroom of strangers what he did to her,” Maez says, but the case took more than a year to go to trial. “I think children are revictimized the longer they wait.”
Using a federal grant, Maez launched six new computer forensic labs, and now evidence can be analyzed in roughly half the time.
Maez also brings real-world experience to the classroom as an area chair for the College of Criminal Justice and Security at the University of Phoenix New Mexico Campus. It helps prime the pump, he adds, by inspiring possible future recruits.
He invites task force members to his classes, where they share strategies. “I had my agents do an undercover operations class,” he says.
What’s next for Maez? Perhaps returning to school for a doctorate in leadership, he says, a plan that reflects one of his maxims: “An educated officer is the best officer.”