News and Press Releases

Facebook Predator Faces Child Pornography Charges

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 2, 2014

Tampa, Florida – United States Attorney A. Lee Bentley, III announces that Melvin Barber Bridgers, III (34, Tarpon Springs) has been charged in a criminal complaint with production, receipt, distribution, and possession of child pornography. If convicted, he faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years, up to 30 years’ imprisonment on the production charge and a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years, up to 20 years in prison on each of the receipt and distribution charges. For the possession of child pornography charge, he faces up to 10 years in federal prison.

Bridgers was arrested on May 1, 2014, and made his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Jenkins, in Tampa.  He was detained pending further proceedings.

According to the criminal complaint, between about November 30, 2013, and May 1, 2014, Bridgers used multiple Facebook accounts to pose as a teenage female and befriend other minor females between the ages of 11 and 16. After befriending the minor females, Bridgers would coerce them into sending sexually graphic photographs to him on Facebook. Bridgers would then threaten the minor females with exposing the sexually graphic photos to their parents or to other Internet users, to extort the minor females into sending him additional sexually graphic photographs and videos. He would also instruct the minor females on how to pose sexually in the photographs. Bridgers, who moved to Tarpon Springs from North Carolina in the fall of 2013, came to the attention of law enforcement when a 12-year-old victim in the Houston, Texas area reported the Facebook activity to her mother, who then contacted the authorities.

A criminal complaint is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed a violation of the federal criminal laws, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.

According to investigators, a "disturbing trend" is emerging in which child predators are increasingly using the Internet and social media sites such as Facebook to entice children to produce and share sexually explicit material online. During recent operations, HSI and ICAC investigators encountered various child predators chatting online with minors about sexual topics, sending them obscene images, encouraging them to produce nude or sexual photos and videos, and attempting to meet them in person to engage in sexual activity. In some cases, child predators are also sexually extorting, or "sextorting," the minors into producing additional and increasingly graphic images and videos.  HSI is asking that anyone with additional information about potential victims this case come forward by contacting ICE-HSI tip line at 1-866-347-2423.

This case is being investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. It will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Josephine W. Thomas.

It is another case 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 (CEOS), Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims.  For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov.

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