United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner
Eastern District of California
Kern County Man Charged with "Sextortion" of Minors Using Social Media
|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE||
Thursday, March 6, 2014
FRESNO, Calif. — A federal grand jury returned a two-count indictment today against Brian Caputo, 25, of Arvin, charging him with sexual exploitation of a minor and receipt and distribution of child pornography, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
According to court documents, Caputo for the past eight years has used social media accounts with Facebook, Kik Messenger, Text Me! as well as Yahoo! and Dropbox accounts to communicate with dozens of minor females throughout the United States while posing as a minor female. Soon after establishing communication with the minor females, Caputo would threaten to reveal sexually explicit images of their friends unless the minor females created and sent to him images of themselves nude or engaging in sexually explicit conduct. In June 2013, Caputo contacted a 12-year-old girl in El Paso, Texas and threatened to distribute sexually explicit pictures of her 11-year-old friend unless she sent nude images of herself to Caputo. She told a family member who contacted the El Paso Police Department, and they started an investigation.
When law enforcement investigators traced the threatening communications to Caputo, they discovered that he had been victimizing many other minor females across the United States. For example, Caputo convinced one minor female to take and then upload more than 660 sexually explicit images of herself to a Dropbox account controlled by Caputo. When agents executed a search warrant at his residence in Arvin, on February 28, 2014, Caputo's cell phone contained hundreds of images of girls ages 11-15 undressing, nude, or engaging in sexually explicit conduct. Caputo then traded the images with other Internet users.
To date, at least eight minor females have been identified, although law enforcement is attempting to confirm the identity of many other victims. Caputo established Facebook accounts, and contacted minor females, using the names Giavanna Derann, Catness Love, Melissa Harpson, Cristal Dafnie, and Britt Any. Anyone who believes that they might have been a victim of Caputo's offenses is encouraged to contact the FBI's Bakersfield office at (661) 323-9665.
The investigation of this case is ongoing and has been done by the Federal Bureau of Investigation Offices in El Paso, Texas and Bakersfield, Calif., with assistance from the El Paso Police Department and the FBI's Violent Crimes Against Children Task Force. Assistant United States Attorney David Gappa is prosecuting the case. Caputo is scheduled to appear before United States Magistrate Judge Sheila K. Oberto on Monday, March 10, 2014, at 1:30 p.m. for arraignment and to determine whether he should remain detained or be released on bond.
If convicted, Caputo faces a maximum statutory penalty of 30 years in prison for sexual exploitation of a minor and 20 years in prison for receipt or distribution of child pornography and a $250,000 fine for each count. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables. The charges are only allegations; the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This case is brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the United States Attorneys' Offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute those who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.justice.gov/psc. Click on the "resources" tab for information about Internet safety education.