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N.Y. police use photos from cell phone to locate suspect

By Stacey Altherr, Staff Writer

In an investigation worthy of a "CSI" episode, Nassau police used photos taken by a suspect on a cell phone stolen in a Valley Stream home invasion to solve the case.

Technology experts say it's the first time they can recall that police were able to obtain photos from a phone they did not have in their possession.

The photos led to the arrest of Mark Gasper, 20, of 137-42 218th St., Springfield Gardens, Thursday night on charges of first-degree robbery and burglary and criminal use of a firearm.

On July 10, a man was doing work inside a house on Fairfield Street in Valley Stream when he answered the doorbell. Two men with handguns pushed their way in and ransacked the house, taking cash, jewelry and electronics. The victim, whom police did not identify, was forced into a bathroom during the crime. He later freed himself and phoned 911, police said.

Soon after the incident, the victim bought a new cell phone identical to the one stolen, a T-Mobile Sidekick, and downloaded photos that were stored on a network server linked to his e-mail account for that phone number.

The photos, one of a woman playing to the camera and another of a little girl outside a home, were used by police to canvass neighborhoods.

"The photos were very helpful in this case," said Nassau Det. Michael Kearns, the arresting officer for the Fifth Squad. "Especially the one of the home."

That picture of the little girl shows two homes in the background, which helped police pinpoint where the photo was taken.

Kearns said he and other Nassau detectives worked with NYPD officers in Queens, where the arrest was made. They arrested Gasper after he was released by Queens detectives on an unrelated charge.

"It was a painstaking search, like looking for a jigsaw match through the neighborhoods," said Sgt. John Roden of the Fifth Precinct.

Brian Cooley, editor-at-large at CNET.com, said a wireless carrier stores photos on a server before they are downloaded, the same way e-mail travels. "It's not a big deal to grab data," he said.

Technology experts say most phone companies use servers to warehouse photos that are sent between a cell phone and another wireless device. "It's the same with e-mail," said Cooley. "The photos are stored by intermediate means. Remember, even Google searches are stored. It's a whole world of Internet connectivity."

Copyright 2006 Newsday, Inc.

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