‘I spent seven months infiltrating paedophile ring’
AS AN undercover operative, he adopted many disguises - drug dealer, drug addict, and a hitman.
But no assignment was more mentally challenging than the seven-months he spent infiltrating a network of paedophiles across NSW.
"It was a good test of my undercover skills," Mark said.
"I wasn't offering anything. No money, no drugs. It was a true test of craft."
To do this, he had to all but become a paedophile. He had to absorb the terrible images, study the videos, and memorise the names of each child and the 'collections' to which they belonged. "It still makes me sick thinking about it," he said.
In the winter of 2007, detectives at the Sex Crimes Squad were handed letters intercepted through the prison system between an inmate and his lover on the Mid North Coast, a former NSW police officer named Gregory John Minehan.
(He is not to be confused with another former NSW police officer, also named Gregory John Minehan, who lives in the state's Riverina and is totally unrelated to the case.)
Within the letters were details of an international dark-web forum brimming with paedophiles, a members-only site where predators could share questions and stories about their grooming efforts. Minehan, it emerged, was one of the website's most established moderators, and would soon become the target of this operation.
To prepare for this assignment, Mark would visit the Sex Crimes Squad on the way home from work each afternoon and sit at a vacant computer desensitising himself to images of child molestation.
He listened to recorded conversations between paedophiles held by the squad's archives and studied their language, noting the way they called each other 'Boy Lovers', or 'BLs' for short.
"I could see three dead people at a car accident and it wouldn't affect me," he said, referring to the tragedies that police observe each day.
"This was different."
With a detective's assistance, Mark registered a profile and scrolled through Minehan's posts, noting how Minehan offered advice to other users and mentored them through problems. Mark posted replies and waited for a response.
Soon after, they began communicating privately, arranging to meet up at the Brighton Le Sands RSL club.
If Mark was frosty as a hitman, he was the opposite as a paedophile.
In the likeable, easygoing drawl of a tradie, he laughed on cue at Minehan's jokes and steered the conversation into his own made-up backstory, telling Minehan that his marriage had been compromised by a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old boy, a friend of his son's, and that his wife was close to leaving him.
The story had been designed to resonate deeply with Minehan; like Mark, he, too, was separated from his wife, had two children, and, according to intelligence holdings, maintained a strong sexual interest in 14-year-old boys.
Minehan came out of this meeting trusting Mark like a brother, delivering him a slew of allied contacts all over the state - a graduate school teacher in Griffith, a man staying with his grandmother in Coonabarabran, a truck driver living at a caravan park in Orange.
Mark met with all of these men using the guise of travelling for business, gathering evidence with each of them while wired up with a microphone.
"It goes for about eight minutes," the truckie told him, as they sat together in his caravan.
"I can make a copy for you."
"How old do your reckon they are?"
"They're probably about 12 or 13. Maybe 11?"
He held 15 face-to-face meetings of this kind with Minehan and the rest of his syndicate, enough for synchronised arrests to unfold on December 15, 2007.
In Griffith and Orange, Port Macquarie and elsewhere, detectives pounded on doors and hauled in the low-level players, seizing thousands of computer files and graphic images.
Minehan, who was found with 2300 still images and 70 videos, was given a four year minimum term, receiving discounts for his guilty plea, remorse, and the fact he'd likely serve the sentence in protective custody.
Had he abused a child he would have received a higher sentence, but, as he told a psychiatrist, he'd had ever acted on any of his fantasies.
Other complicating factors would be offered in his defence, including a diagnosis of depression, bipolar disorder, and the fact that he'd self-reported his infatuations several times in the months and even years prior to his arrest.
He successfully appealed in 2010 and received a further a nine-month reduction. Comment was sought through his lawyer.