Hundreds of women may have been secretly videotaped from cameras found hidden in bathrooms at the University of Delaware, according to state officials.
After cameras were found in women's restrooms on the campus in Newark, Delaware, authorities arrested a university graduate student, 38-year-old Javier Mendiola-Soto, a former doctoral student from Mexico. His arrest was announced Friday.
Javier Mendiola-Soto (Image source: KYW-TV)
The suspect has been charged with 21 counts of felony violation of privacy and was being held in Wilmington on a $42,000 secured bond; federal immigration authorities added a detainer that would keep him behind bars even if he could make the cash bond, The News Journal reported, citing Skip Homiak, the university's director of campus and public safety.
A lawyer for the suspect could not immediately be located.
Mendiola-Soto told campus police he downloaded 1,500 separate videos of women using miniature cameras he hid in sanitary napkin dispensers in bathroom stalls on and around campus, the News Journal reported, citing Homiak. But since some of the woman were recorded "three or four times," Homiak told the News Journal, "hundreds" of victims is an accurate estimate.
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Once the case is adjudicated and any sentence served, he said, the "likely outcome" for Mendiola-Soto is deportation back to his home country of Mexico.
Mendiola-Soto has been expelled from the university, Homiak added.
Homiak said it's understood that some of the victims – all of whom have been offered counseling – might be reticent to appear in court.
"We're hoping that, in fact, if they're needed to testify, they will," he told the News Journal. "We do understand that they've been traumatized. Everything that we are doing at the university is with the utmost sensitivity to the victims. And that's our main concern at the moment."
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Homiak said Mendiola-Soto used just two cameras and moved them over a period stretching from May 2012 through June 2014 amongst restrooms in five locations: the Hugh Morris Library, Memorial Hall, the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Laboratory, Willard Hall Education Building and a staff-only restroom at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute in the Delaware Technology Park. A woman in the latter location spotted a hidden camera and reported it June 27, Homiak said.
"Very quickly, the investigation led to the arrest of the defendant after we spoke to witnesses, and other investigative means," Homiak said. Mendiola-Soto, who was arrested July 1, took classes in that building, he said.
The cameras were at times also mounted in at least two other locations, Homiak said: the Goodwill Store on Main Street in Newark, and a bathroom at his Newark residence. Homiak said Mendiola-Soto's roommates included women.
On campus, Homiak said, police have searched every restroom – including men's rooms – and locker room. Nothing else was found, he said.
Homiak said it's unknown how Mendiola-Soto managed to slip in and out of women's restrooms – none of which are accessible 24 hours a day – over a two-year period, apparently without getting seen.
"That's a good question," Homiak told the News Journal. "We don't know the answer to that. The cameras had to physically be removed and downloaded each time he placed them in the bathroom."
Homiak told the News Journal there's nothing to indicate the suspect had an accomplice, adding that a forensic examination has concluded that none of the videos were electronically shared.
"Anybody who thinks they may have been a victim of this, they can call us on the hotline and speak with an investigator," Homiak told the News Journal. "And if that person wishes, we can compare her known photo with an image that we have taken from the videos."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.