(WSIL) – A southern Illinois man has been found guilty of an online sextortion program.
On Friday, a federal jury convicted 44-year-old Mill Shoals resident Michael Ferris of racketeering, cyberstalking, and making, distributing and possessing child pornography with nine minors.
According to documents and evidence, from at least March 2020 to November 2020, Ferris targeted teenage girls on Facebook and engaged in a pattern of extortion. His victims were between 11 and 17 years old and traveled from all over the country to bring him to justice.
As part of his plan, Ferris created fake Facebook personas that looked like teenage girls. He also joined Facebook groups designed for teens and survivors of sexual abuse. Ferris sent unsolicited messages to teenage girls under the guise of being a peer looking to make a new boyfriend. When the teens responded, Ferris would try to convince them to send a nude photo or answer personal questions about themselves. Ferris then used this information as leverage to force her to send more explicit photos, answer more sexual questions, or perform sexual acts on herself or others while Ferris watched in the video chat. When his victims refused or asked to stop, Ferris would harass and threaten them until they continued, usually threatening to send the girls’ photos or answers to personal questions to their friends, parents, the police, or child protection services. Even after Ferris’ victims complied with his demands, he often continued to distribute their sexually explicit images to friends and family.
“Ferris preyed on some of the most vulnerable people in the community, children, using shame and fear to gain power over them,” said US Attorney Rachelle Crowe. “Fortunately, these underage victims and their families came from across the country to testify and hold Ferris accountable
for his disturbing demands. Discussing with kids about their use of social media and who to talk to about internet issues helps fight predators like Michael Ferris.”
“I commend those who have bravely come forward to testify to get Ferris off our streets and away from other children he may harm,” said R. Sean Fitzgerald, executive special agent at HSI Chicago. “HSI and our law enforcement partners will continue to work together in our communities to help and support the victims of these crimes and bring the perpetrators to justice.”
The investigation was conducted by agents from Homeland Security Investigations – Springfield with assistance from domestic and international offices of Homeland Security Investigations, the Jackson County, Oregon Sheriff’s Office, the Jefferson County Illinois Sheriff’s Office, the Illinois State Police and the Aurora Missouri Police Department carried out. Victim and witness support was provided by the United States Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of Illinois, the Eastern District of Missouri and Homeland Security Investigations.