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Face-recog tech spots US fugitive wanted for 14 years ... from a photo

Wanted poster pic gets alleged sex offender nabbed in Nepal

Face recognition

The US Federal Bureau of Investigations says it has captured a fugitive who has been wanted for the last 14 years on child sex abuse and kidnapping charges, and it credits modern face recognition technology for the arrest.

The accused, Neil Stammer, originally of New Mexico, was arrested in 1999 but released on bond pending trial. When he never showed up for his arraignment, a new arrest warrant was issued in May 2000 – but that was the last authorities saw of him until July of this year, when he was finally tracked down in Nepal.

According to new information released by the FBI this week, that Stammer was found at all was largely an accident.

Authorities only got a bead on him when a special agent with the US Diplomatic Security Service, which investigates passport fraud, decided on a whim to feed photos from some FBI wanted posters he had on his desk into facial recognition software he had recently been issued.

To his surprise, Stammer's photo matched the headshot from a US passport – only the name on the passport was not Neil Stammer.

Seeing that the passport had been used to enter Nepal, the DSS agent contacted the FBI, which in turn dispatched Special Agent Russ Wilson to investigate. Sure enough, Wilson had no trouble locating Stammer, who had been living in the South Asian country for the last eight years.

"He was very comfortable in Nepal," Wilson said in a statement. "My impression was that he never thought he would be discovered."

Stammer – who owned a magic shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico and is described by the FBI as "a talented juggler with an international reputation" – had been living under the name Kevin Hodges and had taken up teaching English and other languages to students hoping to be accepted to schools abroad.

He is charged with sexually assaulting two boys who had been taking juggling lessons from him at his store, 15 years ago.

Now 42, Stammer was so convinced that he had eluded authorities that he made regular trips to the US Embassy in Nepal to renew his tourist visa.

Nepal has no formal extradition treaty with the US, but the FBI says the Nepalese government cooperated with the agency to arrange Stammer's capture and return to the US, where he remains in custody in Albuquerque pending his trial.

"His extradition to New Mexico means that the state and the alleged victims will finally have their day in court," New Mexico District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said in a statement. "We have been able to locate each of the alleged victims. We will continue to work with them and, in the end, hope to bring them some measure of justice." ®

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