INDIANAPOLIS — By the the time detectives had Jason Maatman, an alleged pedophile who once openly advocated for sex with children, in custody at the edge of a park in Mexico City, there was another problem.
They did not know where Maatman, in a city of more than 21 million people, might have hidden child pornography they believed he had in his possession. Any material would likely be held on digital forms, small thumbnails or SD cards, that would be hard to track down.
Despite Maatman’s assumption that he could flee pending court cases in his Netherlands homeland and, according to the Associated Press, go undetected by Mexican authorities, police there had already brought in outside reinforcements.
Operation Underground Railroad is a nonprofit involved in the rescue of human trafficking and sex trafficking victims. The group helped authorities lure Maatman to the park using a network of dogs trained to suss out a specific chemical coated on all electronic devices — from thumbnails to SD cards.
Once a search warrant was obtained, a black lab named Hidu entered the apartment. Within minutes, the K-9 had snuffed out 4 terabytes of child sexual abuse material.
A cellphone sitting in rancid laundry and electronics found in the walls contained a cache of sexually explicit material involving children authorities suspect Maatman was already working to sell.
The case marked Hidu's very first. Just two weeks prior, he graduated from Jordan Detection K-9, a training academy on the east side of Indianapolis.
Hidu, was always at the top of his class, according to trainer Todd Jordan.
"He always just seemed to have the drive that would be needed for several warrants," Jordan said.
The odor these dogs are trained to find is called triphenylphosphine oxide, or TPPO, and it is a key tool authorities can use to locate small electronic devices that may contain child pornography or sexually explicit material.
As criminals get craftier in how they hide child pornography, the dogs Jordan trains can play a key role in finding material that could bring them to justice. While serving a search warrant in Pennsylvania, the trainer of 25 years recalled how one dog he trained kept circling back to a quarter found on the premises.
It looked innocuous enough — a regular 25 cents. The only thing puzzling authorities was why the dog kept signaling for TPPO.
Then they discovered a ring nearby. Jordan popped that quarter into the ring, and slammed it twice on a table, revealing the micro SD card hidden inside to show other law enforcement agencies how the dogs' noses can answer questions theirs cannot.
"What throws an investigator off does not throw a dog off because they're reacting to the odor. They don't care what it looks like," Jordan said.
Jordan first began training dogs to find electronic devices in 2014. By the next year, his dogs were crucial in two major child sex exploitation and porn cases in Indiana.
K-9 Bear located a thumb drive containing child pornography that belonged to the disgraced Subway spokesperson Jared Fogle.
After that, Jordan said requests from law enforcement and nonprofits working in the human trafficking space began to pour in. The same dog also found a gun case containing devices with child pornography that belonged to convicted child molester Marvin Sharp. It was initially missed by authorities.
"Everybody recognized the fact that these dogs were available, and that these dogs can actually find the electronic storage devices that can help in child pornography and child exploitation cases," Jordan said.
"They've gone through the years with the training to be comfort dogs, and facility dogs, and working with people with disabilities. And, even though they may have not made it through that program, some of their skills are still there," Jordan said.
Throughout the course of three to five months, the K-9s are put through a variety of situations meant to train them for the field. Four rooms on the academy's second floor allow the dogs to train in a variety of scenarios: bedrooms, living rooms or other locations electronics containing illicit material could be hidden.
The dogs have been able to find devices located in ceiling tiles 8 feet above a suspect's head, or in hidden compartments in homes.
"Most of the people, they're not hiding this from the police officers. They are hiding them from their families. They are hiding them from their wives. So, they don't think that they're gonna get caught," Jordan said.
The K-9s' keen ability to find these devices is needed in multiple jurisdictions across the country. While Hidu was the first dog to assist with a case outside the country, and now works in Thailand, other K-9s assist jurisdictions in sex crimes investigations across the United States.
Jordan's latest project is teaching the dogs to locate Air Tags, which authorities said are being used increasingly to track the location of young children.
So far, his K-9s have been able to find those devices.
"Everybody uses electronics. Everybody has their phone in their hand. So we're always trying to find what's gonna be the latest and greatest thing, where we can keep up on the trends and and be able to catch the bad guys," Jordan said.