Hank Asher, an entrepreneur who pioneered the use of databases and spent millions of his fortune fighting child pornography, died this week. He was 61.|
Officials at TLO, Asher's Boca Raton company, said he ""died peacefully in his home"" Friday.
""He was a wonderful human being who, through his philanthropy, saved thousands of children,"" said former Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, who worked for Asher for a time.
Asher's database work also led to the arrests of the Beltway snipers who killed 10 people in the Washington area in 2002.
Asher pioneered data mining software that was sold to businesses but also sped cops' ability to connect the dots in criminal investigations. Work that once required months could be done in a few minutes, Butterworth said.
When Asher arrived in South Florida in the 1970s, he gave little indication he'd become a data guru or a national crime-fighting figure. He was a high school dropout in search of a better climate for his commercial painting business than his Indiana home offered.
The painting company flourished, and Asher later founded Boca data firms Database Technologies and Seisint. After the Sept. 11 attacks, Seisint developed software that identified terrorists.
Asher owned 40 percent of Seisint in 2004, when it was sold to British publishing giant Reed Elsevier for $775 million and became part of LexisNexis.
""I really thought I'd wind up on a 200-foot yacht down in the South Pacific,"" Asher said in a 2009 interview with The Palm Beach Post. ""But I decided to go back to work.""
Asher's final project was TLFO, later changed to TLO, an acronym for ""The Last One."" Part of his business model was to build a supercomputer that could track child pornography as it traveled over the Internet, then give police free access.
Asher traced his passion for fighting child pornography to 1993, when he donated his database software to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The first time his creation helped rescue a child from a predator, Asher said, he felt like he was cashing ""a paycheck for the soul.""
After that, he immersed himself in the underworld of child predators. Asher said he wanted to catch ""the worst of the worst,"" men who rape infants, toddlers and young children.
""He really wanted to rid the world of pedophiles,"" Butterworth said.
Asher donated his computing power to law enforcement agencies. And he paid for police and prosecutors from around the world to travel to Boca to learn about his crime-fighting software.
Even after years of fighting pedophiles, Butterworth said, Asher would get tears in his eyes when a police officer from somewhere in the world called to let Asher know about a child molester who had been captured through Asher's software.
Asher also was driven by memories of his own checkered past. For about seven weeks in the early 1980s, Asher flew loads of cocaine from the Bahamas. He was never charged with a crime and later cooperated with drug warriors.
""He was very open about his past,"" Butterworth said. ""He never hid it. It bothered him.""
Portly and profane, Asher was a tangle of contradictions. He dropped out of high school, yet Butterworth swears his IQ was on par with Einstein and Edison.
After his brief foray into crime, Asher devoted two decades to helping cops catch killers and child molesters.
He was a high-powered businessman who never wore a tie or socks. A white guy who grew up on an Indiana farm, Asher liked to say he imagined God as a black woman.
""The guy was complex, to say the least,"" Butterworth said. ""Colorful is not the word for it. He was double, triple colorful.""
Never one to shy away from a fight, he seemed to relish legal battles with business rivals. And he loved to make bold pronouncements.
""I'm going for the gusto,"" Asher told the Post in 2009. ""I don't want to check out of this planet without building the world's most valuable company.""
He fell short of his vow to turn TLO into the world's most valuable company. Asher laid off most of the company's workers in May. However, those layoffs were temporary, and the company has bounced back, said Bridget O'Connor, TLO's executive director of human resources.
""Since May we have rebounded nicely and recalled most of those same employees by October,"" O'Connor said. ""We had a record revenue week last week and will more than likely have another record week this week.""
Butterworth said Asher should be remembered not for the ups and downs of his businesses but for his willingness to give of his wealth, not just to crime-fighting causes but also to cancer research and to earthquake relief in Haiti.
""He was the most generous person I've ever met in my life,"" Butterworth said.
Asher is survived by his wife, Judith, their two children, Desiree Asher and Carly Yoost, and his son-in-law, Wally Yoost.
John Walsh, host of the America's Most Wanted television series, likewise recalled Asher's generostiy.
""Hank was the most charitable man I ever met,"" Walsh said in a statement released by TLO. ""He was larger than life, but the biggest part of Hank was his heart.""
Staff researcher Niels Heimeriks contributed to this story.
Published in The Palm Beach Post on Jan. 12, 2013