Pioneering Computer Crime Fighter Retiring After 38 Years

Jimmy Weg was recognized by FBI Director James Comey in 2014 for his work in Operation Kingdom Conquerer

By AMY BETH HANSON, Associated Press

HELENA — The man who pioneered Montana law enforcement efforts to fight computer and Internet crimes is retiring at the end of the month, wrapping up a career in which he helped bring down an international child pornography ring.

Jimmy Weg is nothing short of enthusiastic about a job he calls fascinating and says has been a labor of love. His level of expertise and training is appreciated by prosecutors and judges, but the work is not always easy.

More than half of Weg’s work includes the unenviable task of going through numerous computers and data storage devices seized from people suspected of possessing, sharing and even creating child pornography.

He’s gotten to the point where he can scan through thumbnails of 50,000 images in five to 10 minutes and identify which ones are child pornography.

It’s difficult to look at the images. “The way I get through it is our success rate,” he said in a recent interview. “I’m confident we are going to stop someone from abusing kids.”

He was recognized by FBI Director James Comey in 2014 for his work in Operation Kingdom Conquerer, which ended with convictions against 21 defendants in the United States and shut down a child pornography bulletin board.

The case was prosecuted in Montana because the bulletin board was started by a short-order cook and Linux administrator from Polson. It was hosted on a server in the United Kingdom.

Weg searched the computers and other items seized from 16 of the defendants, identifying the child pornography and finding the digital tracks that connected the suspects to the bulletin board and to each other.

That helped prosecutors prove they sexually exploited children through advertising, distributing, viewing and receiving child pornography.

Eighteen men pleaded guilty and three others were found guilty at trial. Their federal sentences ranged from 15 years to nearly 19 years in prison.

“Among these men were definitely hands-on child molesters,” and producers of child pornography, said Weg, a member of the Montana Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. “We took down people who I think would never stop doing this.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Cindy Peterson is among those who are going to miss Weg’s expertise as she prosecutes cases.

“He has the ability to speak to the jury in lay-people’s terms and to relay scientific and highly technical terms so that you and I and everyone can understand them,” Peterson said.

Since 2000, when Weg became the agent in charge of the Justice Department’s Computer Crime Unit, nearly 60 percent of his 640 cases have involved sex crimes against children.

He’s also worked on about 50 homicides where the computer evidence helped make the case, he said.

In 2007, Ann Marie Stout of Darby was charged with shooting her husband in the back of the head while he slept. She and their children told law enforcement officers that another woman had been stalking their family.

Weg found that communications Stout has claimed came from the woman with whom her husband had an affair actually had been created on computers at Stout’s home and work.

He also showed that online searches initiated on Stout’s computer included the phrases: “undetectable poison,” ”how to kill someone” and “poison and get away with it.”

Stout was convicted of deliberate homicide and sentenced to life in prison

The way Weg does his work has evolved along with computer technology over the past four decades.

When he began his investigative career in the 1970s, he was perusing paperwork and accounting ledgers to identify people who cheated investors. He investigated securities fraud in Montana from 1977 to 1996 and headed the Medicaid fraud unit from 1996 to 2000.

When he went to his first federal law enforcement computer training class he remembers that “it was so neat to find stuff that people thought they had deleted,” from their computers. His training has never really ended as technology has evolved.

Now, Weg said he plans to spend more time with his daughter and granddaughter, who live in Nevada. But he said he’d probably do some forensic work for attorneys in civil cases.

Peterson said she’s going to call him to testify in a couple more federal cases in the coming months.

“He’s exceptional and I am so sad that we are not going to have him as a resource, but I’m happy that he’s going to be able to retire,” Peterson said. “He’s earned it.”

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