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A 31-year-old Montgomery, Alabama man pleaded guilty Thursday to producing child pornography in connection with an online sextortion scheme that spans the globe, U.S. Attorney George L. Beck, Jr., announced.
Over a period of more than two years, in many cases pretending to be teen musician Justin Bieber, Christopher Patrick Gunn repeatedly used computers, chat rooms and other social media outlets, to threaten hundreds of young girls between 9 and 16 years of age who live throughout the United States and internationally.
Based on his guilty plea, Gunn faces no less than 25 years and as much as 35 years in federal prison and could be ordered to spend the rest of his life on supervised release.
Gunn used those threats to pressure a number of the children and teenagers to produce elicit and pornographic material of themselves. Gunn pleaded to charges brought in the Middle District of Alabama as well as the Northern District of Florida, and his plea included two counts of making child pornography, fifteen counts of interstate extortion, and seven counts of internet stalking.
The investigation of Gunn started in April 2011 by officers of the Prattville (Alabama) Police Department, after female students at Prattville Junior High School complained that someone using the screen name "Tyler Mielke" had been asking them for sexually explicit pictures over Facebook. Prattville investigators were able to trace an IP address for the bogus "Tyler Mielke" account back to Gunn's residence in Montgomery and obtained and executed a state search warrant for his residence on April 14, 2011. The seized computers revealed evidence of the online sextortion plot under the account names "Tyler Mielke" and "Jason Lempke."
Separate investigations conducted in September 2011 by the Biloxi (Mississippi) Police Department and the Livingston Parish (Louisiana) Sheriff's Office revealed that someone in the Montgomery area had been committing the very same crimes against young girls in those areas using Facebook accounts with the names "C.J. Harper" and "Dalton Powers."
Based upon the information obtained from these investigations, the FBI was able to determine that Gunn was the person behind all of the criminal conduct. On March 20, 2012, FBI agents executed a federal search warrant at Gunn's residence, where they discovered a cell phone and a laptop computer containing images and videos of child pornography.
Among the pictures that Gunn possessed were several of young girls posing in various states of undress and which appear to have been produced by the girls themselves using their cell phone cameras. These images confirmed the information that the FBI's investigation had already uncovered – that for over a year Gunn had been repeatedly using fake Facebook profiles to obtain nude and partially nude photos and videos from young girls in numerous states, including Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
Gunn used two principal schemes to obtain photos of these young girls in various states of undress.
The first scheme – dubbed "The New Kid Ruse" –began sometime in 2009 and continued until at least August 2011. Under that scheme, Gunn contacted the minor victims by sending them a message over Facebook. He then pretended to be a new kid in town looking for friends. For this purpose, Gunn allegedly established and used a number of different online aliases, including Tyler Mielke, Jason Lempke, CJ Harper, Dalton Powers, Dalton Walthers, Daniel Applegate, and Daniel Rodgers. Once he had gained their trust through chatting, Gunn would ask the girls a series of personal questions, such as their bra size, their sexual history, intimate details about their bodies, and so on. When they had finished divulging that personal information, Gunn would then ask the girls to send him a topless photo. If they refused, he would threaten to e-mail their intimate conversation to the school principal or post it on Facebook for everyone to see.
The second scheme – dubbed "The Justin Bieber Ruse" –began sometime in November 2011, or possibly even earlier, and continued until shortly before Gunn was arrested in March of this year. Under that scheme, Gunn pretending to be the internationally famed pop star, Justin Bieber, contacted the minor victims primarily by using internet-based interactive video chat services, such as Omegle and Skype. Once he had convinced the minor victims that he was, in fact, Justin Bieber, Gunn would allegedly offer them free concert tickets, backstage passes, or some other fan-related benefits if they would agree to send him a webcam transmission or a photo of themselves with their breasts exposed.
Some of the minor victims of Gunn's two extortion schemes complied to varying degrees with his demands; others did not. For those who complied, Gunn continued sending further demands and more threatening communications. For example, girls who provided a photo of themselves in nothing but underwear were extorted for topless photos. Those who provided topless photos were extorted for pictures of themselves completely naked. And for the minor victims who continued to accede to his demands, Gunn would require them to appear on webcam and perform sexually explicit acts on themselves. If any of his demands were not met, Gunn would threaten to withhold the benefits he had promised the girls and/or to injure the girls' reputations by publishing their compromising images and videos over the internet.
"These child predators irreparably damage the children they victimize," stated U.S. Attorney Beck. "The scope of this defendant's exploitation of children is staggering; he not only preyed upon children in our community, but in communities across the United States. Thank goodness he is being brought to justice as the children in our country are safer with this defendant off of the streets."
The FBI is continuing to work to identify additional victims of both schemes in numerous other states, including Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and California. Members of the public who believe they may have information concerning these or related crimes are urged to contact the Montgomery field office of the FBI at (334) 263-1691.