MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A cellphone picture led police to a man accused of having sexually-explicit conversations with someone he thought was a minor.

Information embedded in pictures is a new way for law enforcement to track suspects.

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A picture in response to a Craigslist “missed connections” ad led Dakota County Sheriff’s detectives to a suspect. Detective Brian Eells posed as a 15-year-old girl online.

“The objective is to find somebody who is seeking out a kid, finds out that they’re talking to a kid and then continues and solicits for sex,” Eells said.

In this case, he received a reply with a picture, and in response to the age wrote, “I like that. Probably shouldn’t admit that. It’s forbidden.”

“Eventually in this case, he’s starts sending me pornography, he’s soliciting me and enticing me, talking about the things he’s going to do to me sexually from the pictures,” Eells said.

The picture that led investigators to Steven Faust (credit: CBS)

Eells explains the picture the suspect sent contained what is called metadata, with location information.

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“What you can see from this is everything about the phone that it will tell us,” Eell said.

He typed in the latitude and longitude of the picture, and it pinpointed the location of a home in Mahtomedi. That is where deputies arrested 50-year-old Steven Faust.

Sheriff Tim Leslie says what some cellphone pictures hold is the equivalent of a 21st-century fingerprint.

“Metadata is like a digital fingerprint, just like a fingerprint may put you at the scene of something, this may put you at the scene of something as well,” Leslie said. “It’s factual, it’s something that cannot be disputed.”

The metadata was enough to get a search warrant for the home, but more work went into making the case.

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Steven Faust is charged with two counts of electronic solicitation of a child. WCCO-TV reached out to him for comment, but have not heard back.

Jennifer Mayerle