Investigators are trying to identify hundreds of potential victims whose images were found on the computer of an Indiana man charged with coercing two teenage boys -- including one in in Prince George’s County, Md. -- into performing online sex acts for him by threatening to post on gay porn sites compromising videos he secretly made of them.
U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett said during a Monday news conference that the “sextortion” case against Richard Leon Finkbiner could become the largest of its kind in the U.S. to date.
Finkbiner, 39, was arrested Friday at his home in the Clay County community of Brazil and faces two preliminary counts of sexually exploiting a child. He remained in custody Monday and has a detention hearing scheduled for Wednesday. Court records indicated he didn't have an attorney.
During questioning by FBI agents, Finkbiner estimated that he had coerced at least 100 young people into making explicit videos, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Terre Haute. Hogsett said investigators found “thousands” of explicit images on Finkbiner's hard drive, mostly of teenage boys.
“We are fearful that it could involve hundreds of individuals not just here in Indiana but across the country,” Hogsett said.
Authorities released a mug shot of him Monday, hoping that other potential victims will come forward.
“Mr. Finkbiner has focused his attention on what appear to be young men between the ages of 14 to 16,” Hogsett said.
The preliminary charges pertain to Finkbiner's alleged extortion of two 14-year-old boys, one in Prince George’s County and the other in Michigan. Prosecutors say he surreptitiously recorded videos of the boys exposing themselves on webcam chat sites and threatened to post them and the boys' identities on gay porn sites unless the boys performed sexual acts for him via webcam.
“So u wanna play or b a famous gay porn star?” he allegedly asked the Michigan boy.
The boy told Finkbiner he was underage and pleaded with him to delete the recording, the complaint says. “u know that I under age and that is against the law and u could be arrested for this,” he wrote.
But the complaint says Finkbiner responded: “yes it is illegal im ok with that...I won't get caught im a hacker I covered my tracks.”
The boys complied with Finkbiner's demands at first before reporting the crime to relatives, officials said. Investigators then tracked the communications to Clay County Internet in Brazil, a company Finkbiner owns that provides website hosting and other computer-related services, the complaint said.
Officials did not say whether they suspect Finkbiner shared the images with anyone else. They did say that there are websites that offer advice on how to sexually extort others and where images can be posted.
Sextortion is a growing crime in which Internet predators catch victims in embarrassing situations online and threaten to expose them unless they create sexually explicit photos or videos.
“This is not the normal extortion,” said Indiana State Police Lt. Chuck Cohen, who specializes in online crime. “This is extortion for sexual satisfaction.”
The crime has been reported across the U.S.
In Alabama, a 24-year-old man was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2010 after he admitted sending threatening e-mails on Facebook and MySpace extorting nude photos from more than 50 young women in Alabama, Pennsylvania and Missouri. A 31-year-old California man was arrested that same year after allegedly hacking into more than 200 computers and threatened to expose nude photos. Authorities say 44 of the victims were juveniles, and the man even managed to remotely activate some victims' webcams without their knowledge.
More recently, a 21-year-old Maryland man who pleaded guilty to charges he extorted an Indiana teen and up to nine other girls across the country into sexual favors online was sentenced in January to 33 years in federal prison.
Cohen urged any young people who have been targeted by online predators to tell their parents, a teacher or another responsible adult.
“The only way to stop the embarrassment is to get others involved,” he said.