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Prosecutors file more charges in ‘sextortion’ case

INDIANAPOLIS — A Maryland man charged with extorting an Indiana teen into sexual favors victimized other teens in several states after he was released on bond, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

Trevor Shea, 20, has agreed to plead guilty to charges of sexual exploitation of children stemming from both cases, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Prosecutors say he blackmailed and convinced 10 girls between the ages of 13 and 16 to send him sexually explicit photographs or videos.

Court documents filed in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis allege that Shea coerced four girls in Florida, Kansas and Maryland into various acts after his release on bond following his initial indictment in June 2010. At the time, Shea was on home detention and being electronically monitored and had agreed not to use a computer as a term of release. He was in U.S. marshals’ custody Wednesday.

U.S. Attorney A. Brant Cook said it was important for teens to realize that online acts that seem harmless and private today can later come back to haunt them.

“It’s important to note that digital images … never go away and can be passed along at the click of a button,” he said at a news conference to announce the charges Wednesday.

Shea could face 15 to 30 years in prison on each of the seven counts against him under terms of a proposed plea agreement, and up to 30 years more for violating the terms of his pre-trial release.

Shea’s attorney, Michael Donahoe, declined to comment on the case.

The case is an example of a growing crime that federal prosecutors call “sextortion,” in which Internet predators catch victims in embarrassing situations online and threaten to expose them unless they create sexually explicit photos or videos for them.

U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett said Shea’s case was a “landmark of its kind” in part because there were so many victims from across the country and he allegedly forced the girls to indulge in sadistic and masochistic behavior on webcam.

Shea’s case began in September 2009, when police received a report that a 16-year-old girl from Brownsburg, Ind., was being stalked over the Internet. The girl and two of her friends had visited a chatroom and flashed their breasts over a webcam. A week later, a stranger contacted the girl and said he had captured her image on the webcam and would post the pictures to her MySpace friends unless she posed for more explicit pictures and videos for him, the documents said.

“Every time she logged on to the Internet, she couldn’t escape him,” said Brownsburg police Detective Sgt. Jennifer Pyatt, who attended the news conference.

The girl complied for a while, but finally balked, and the stranger briefly took control of her MySpace page and threatened to expose her. Investigators traced the online threats to Shea and raided his Mechanicsburg, Md., home in March 2010, and eventually found videos of five more girls on Shea’s computer, the documents said.

After appearing in court in June 2010, Shea was released on bond and ordered not to use a computer or the Internet. But in November, police in Pace, Fla., received a report that a 16-year-old girl was being blackmailed over the Internet. Documents say a person later found to be Shea contacted the girl and asked if the person who had blackmailed her previously had been caught, then told her to guess who was back. Shea allegedly coerced the girl into posing for several nude videos before she contacted police.

Authorities traced the threats to Shea’s residence, where they arrested him and seized his computer on Dec. 22. Investigators who examined the computer also found videos of three additional girls, one from Maryland and two from Kansas, engaged in sexually explicit acts that were later found to have been made while Shea was on pre-trial release. That led to the new charges.

The proposed plea agreement does not include any agreed-upon recommended sentence. Both sides will argue for what they deem to be an appropriate sentence at a hearing to be scheduled later.