Madeline Soto search: Mother’s boyfriend performed factory reset on phone, report shows

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — A newly released arrest affidavit stated investigators found evidence on 37-year-old Stephan Sterns’ phone that led them to arrest him for sexual battery and possession of child sex abuse material.

Law enforcement said Sterns is the primary suspect in the disappearance of 13-year-old Madeline Soto who vanished Monday. Sterns is the boyfriend of Soto’s mother, Jennifer.


According to an arrest affidavit obtained by Channel 9, law enforcement said Stephan Sterns did a factory reset on his phone the day Madeline vanished.

Investigators recovered several photos and videos showing Sterns sexually battering a child.

Just hours before Stephan Sterns was arrested for sexual battery and possession of child sex abuse material he spoke to Channel 9 crying and pleading for help to find Madeline.

Read: Madeline Soto: Search continues for missing girl as her mother’s boyfriend refuses to face judge

He was the last confirmed person to see her. He claims he dropped her off at a church down the street from her middle school.

“I dropped her off early, but I could have waited longer,” Sterns told Channel 9 Tuesday beside Madeline’s mom.

According to the arrest affidavit, family and friends said it was unusual for Madeline to be dropped off down the street.

Read: Man arrested in connection with shooting that left 1 dead, 6 injured in Orlando

We dug into Stern’s background and how long he and Madeline Soto’s mother have been in a relationship - sorting through records and speaking to both his family and Jennifer Soto’s family.

We went to speak to Madeline Soto’s grandmother’s Thursday. She was not at home, but we spoke by Ring Doorbell Camera.

She said Stephan Sterns and Jennifer Soto have been in a relationship for several years. She said she is worried about Madeline’s safety, especially after hearing what authorities found on Stephan Sterns’ phone.

We spoke by phone to Sterns’ father, Christopher Sterns, who said he was shocked.

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As for a criminal history, Sterns is not a registered sex offender, according to FDLE’s sexual offenders and predators’ search.

This is the first time he’s been in booked into the Orange County jail. We found no criminal history except a handful of traffic violations.

As for employment, it’s unclear if he was currently employed. We confirmed he’s been a licensed real estate agent since July 2013. However-- the state database stated he is inactive.

His real estate license is registered at an address in North Port in Sarasota County, the same address his parents live at.

We did confirm with North Port Police that the agency is assisting Orange County Sheriff’s Office as the investigation into Madeline Soto’s disappearance expands.

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