(WSIL) -- A southern Illinois man has been found guilty of an online sextortion scheme.
On Friday, a federal jury convicted 44-year-old Michael Ferris, of Mill Shoals, of extortion, cyberstalking, and production, distribution, and possession of child pornography involving nine minors.
According to documents and evidence, from at least March 2020 until November 2020, Ferris targeted teen girls on Facebook and engaged in a pattern of extortion. His victims ranged in age from 11 to 17-years-old and traveled from across the country to confront him at trial.
As part of his scheme, Ferris created fake Facebook personas appearing to be teenage girls. He also joined Facebook groups meant for teenagers and survivors of sexual abuse. Ferris sent unsolicited messages to teenage girls under the guise of being a peer looking to make a new friend. If the teens responded, Ferris tried to convince them to send a nude photograph or answer personal questions about themselves. Ferris then used that information as leverage to coerce them into sending more explicit photos, answering more sexual questions, or performing sexual acts on themselves or others while Ferris watched on video chat. If his victims refused to comply, or pleaded to stop, Ferris harassed and threatened them until they kept going, usually threatening to send the girls’ photos or answers to personal questions to their friends, parents, police, or child protective services. Even after Ferris’ victims complied with his demands, he would often still distribute their sexually explicit images to friends and family.
“Ferris preyed upon some of the most vulnerable people in the community, children, by using shame and fear to gain power over them,” said United States Attorney Rachelle Crowe. “Fortunately, those minor victims and their families came from across the country to testify and hold Ferris accountable
for his disturbing demands. Discussions with children about their social media use and who they can talk to about problems online helps to combat predators like Michael Ferris.”
“I commend those that bravely came forward to testify to help get Ferris off our streets and away from other children he might harm,” said HSI Chicago Special Agent in Charge R. Sean Fitzgerald. “HSI and our law enforcement partners will continue to work within our communities to aid and assist victims of these crimes and bring the predators to justice.”
The investigation was conducted by agents from Homeland Security Investigations—Springfield with assistance from Homeland Security Investigations domestic and international offices, Jackson County Oregon Sheriff’s Office, Jefferson County Illinois Sheriff’s Office, Illinois State Police, and Aurora Missouri Police Department. Victim and Witness Support was provided by the United States Attorneys’ Office from the Southern District of Illinois, the Eastern District of Missouri, and Homeland Security Investigations.