Pervert Patrol : Big nabs begin with gut feeling
Palos officer helps catch sex offenders
for a man whose job requires him to view some of society's most disturbing images, the reward can be astounding.
Through his work on a national child pornography task force, Palos Heights police Sgt. Mike Zaglifa has developed a widespread reputation for nabbing such traffickers on the Internet.
In perhaps his biggest case, Zaglifa led federal agents in 2003 to a Pittsburgh-area home where a 10-year-old girl was being held as a sex slave.
This week, the abuser, Matthew Mancuso, may get life imprisonment for his crime.
And Zaglifa knows it was his experience and instincts that led directly to Mancuso's arrest.
"I like the idea of a child being rescued," he said. "To get that child and make them safe again is a great reward."
It was May 2003 when Zaglifa was working online with the FBI in pursuit of two large-scale child pornography peddlers. He received an invitation to chat with a man online. Though he didn't have the time, for some reason Zaglifa opened the window.
After a brief conversation, the man asked Zaglifa for a very specific type of child pornography. Immediately, Zaglifa knew there was something seriously wrong with the man.
"A million people have asked me about this, and all I can say is that I had a gut feeling on this one," he said. "It was something about this guy that seemed wrong."
Zaglifa alerted the FBI's Pittsburgh bureau, which led to a search warrant being issued for Mancuso's home in Plum, Pa. There, FBI agents found a 10-year-old Russian girl whom Mancuso had adopted at age 5 as his sex slave.
Mancuso was arrested on federal child pornography charges, convicted and received a 15-year prison sentence in February 2004.
In August, Mancuso, 47, was convicted on 11 state charges, including rape, incest and child endangerment. His sentencing is scheduled for Thursday, and he could be locked away for the rest of his life, according to a spokesman for the Allegheny County district attorney's office.
And Mancuso could face more charges. While he lived in the Pittsburgh area, he sexually assaulted the girl elsewhere, including at a resort near Disney World in Florida. Prosecutors in Orange County, Fla., have filed rape charges against him, for which he could get a life sentence if convicted, said Lt. Matt Irwin of the Orange County Sheriff's Department.
While it may have been his most rewarding case, the Mancuso case is just one of many successes in Zaglifa's career battling child pornography. And his efforts are a part-time pursuit -- only one aspect of his duties as a Palos Heights detective.
Zaglifa, 49, of Orland Park, has been working with online sex cases since 1999, when the Internet was in its fledgling stages. In 2000, he joined a task force led by the Illinois Attorney General's office.
In 2003, Zaglifa became part of the FBI's Innocent Images National Initiative, in which local officers work with federal agents on child pornography cases. He visits chat rooms linked to child-pornography Web sites -- looking for major traffickers.
During his career, he has rescued 15 children, helped in the prosecutions of about 100 people and testified as an expert witness at trials unrelated to his own cases, according to the FBI.
So when Zaglifa gave his tip to the Pittsburgh FBI office, it was pursued quickly, Bill Crowley, a special agent at the office, said.
"You get tips all the time, but because of his knowledge and expertise, his recommendations are taken very seriously," Crowley said. "... That case wouldn't have happened without him."
Assisting on such a major case and helping to protect children is what motivates Zaglifa, enabling him to endure looking through thousands of pornographic images as he pursues pornographers and pedophiles.
"I looked at it as evidence that I needed to put a case together," he said. "And the way I looked at those images, is I never looked at (the children's) eyes. Because if I did, then I'd see their pain."
Zaglifa, who is single, retired from his position on the FBI task force early this year. In February 2007, he will retire from the Palos Heights force.
"I'll miss working with the agents from the FBI, some of the most talented people I've ever worked with," he said. "... I certainly won't miss looking at those images."
Daniel Duggan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (708) 633-5969.