LOS ANGELES, Calif. - The Federal Bureau of Investigation released the following information:
A Moorpark man accused of using social networking websites to trick and extort more than a dozen girls and boys into sending him naked photos and videos was arrested today on federal child pornography charges.
Jeremy Brendan Sears, 23, was arrested this morning without incident by the Ventura Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement Task Force (the Ventura S.A.F.E. Team), which is made up of agents and officers with the FBI and Ventura County Sheriff's Office.
Sears, who was named in a two-count criminal complaint filed yesterday, made his initial appearance this afternoon in United States District Court. According to the affidavit in support of the complaint, Sears approached many of his victims after finding them active in social-networking groups for fans of music acts popular with young teenagers, such as Justin Bieber or One Direction.
Sears set up fake profiles on Facebook, Meetme, and other social networking websites that appeared to be from teenage boys and girls. Sears allegedly used the bogus profiles to communicate with real-life teenagers, sometimes beginning online romantic relationships with the real-life teens and then encouraging them to send him sexually explicit videos and photos of themselves.
On other occasions, Sears threatened to harm the real-life teens or their loved-ones unless they sent him naked images. In some cases, after receiving the images of the underage victims, Sears would distribute those images, along with the victims' names and personal information, to other members of his online social networking groups or to publicly accessible websites.
In one case, Sears gained access to a victim's Facebook account and posted naked photos of her on her own profile page, where they could be seen by her friends and schoolmates. Once Sears had photos of a victim, he commonly used the threat of further harassment and distribution to extort more images.
The federal criminal complaint unsealed at Sears' court appearance this afternoon charges him with two counts of producing child pornography. During today's hearing, United States Magistrate Judge Alka Sagar ordered Sears detained (held without bond) and scheduled an arraignment for May 20.
Sears was not asked to enter a plea. According to the affidavit, Sears is also the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Ventura County Sheriff's Office. The Ventura County District Attorney's Office last year charged Sears for targeting a Ventura County teenage boy by claiming to be a teenage girl, encouraging the boy to send him naked images, and then insisting that they meet in a park so that he could take the boy to a non-existent girl.
Sears was arrested and released on bail in that case in August, but investigators recently determined that he continued to solicit and receive naked images from at least one teenager after that time, according to the affidavit.
Investigators believe that Sears victimized several dozen teenagers — many in Southern California, and some are believed to be overseas — but authorities have not identified all of the victims.
Anyone who believes they may have been a victim in this case should contact the FBI in Ventura at 805-642-3995 or the Ventura County Sheriff's Department at 805-654-9511. The charge of producing child pornography carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in federal prison and a statutory maximum penalty of 30 years.
The investigation was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Ventura County Sheriff's Office.