Michigan Man Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Sexually Exploit Dozens of Minor Girls
Grand Rapids, Michigan resident pleaded guilty on Oct. 25, to two child exploitation offenses, including conspiracy to produce child pornography and conspiracy to receive and distribute child pornography, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Beth Drake of the District of South Carolina.
James Thomas Gersky, 33, pleaded guilty two weeks before he was set to go on trial in Charleston, South Carolina. Six other co-defendants had already pleaded guilty.
According to court documents, between July 2014 and April 2015, Gersky and his co-conspirators utilized a website that was specifically designed to help the group target and sexually exploit underage girls. The website was password-protected and only vetted individuals could become members. The members of the website worked together to identify social media profiles of girls, including girls younger than 13, and strategized how to convince the girls to engage in sexually explicit activity via live web camera. Typically, Gersky and his co-conspirators streamed pre-recorded videos of other underage girls engaging in similar conduct to their target-victims in an effort to trick the girls into believing they were watching a live video of someone their own age. Using peer-pressure, the members convinced the victims to engage in sexually explicit activity. The victims were unaware that they were actually communicating with adult men who were recording the sexually explicit activity. After successfully recording a victim’s sexually explicit activity, Gersky and his co-conspirators would share the videos with each other by uploading the file to a file-storage site and placing a link to download the file on a section of their website. To date, 87 victims from 28 states and Canada have been positively identified.
Five of the co-conspirators each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to produce child pornography and one count of conspiracy to receive and distribute child pornography. On Aug. 8, Jonathan Cripe, 28, of Imperial, Missouri, pleaded guilty. On Sept. 28, Sean Ellis, 43, of Kennesaw, Georgia, and Steven Fox, 39, of Elkridge, Maryland, each pleaded guilty. On Oct. 12, Michael Augustin, 44, of Fort Collins, Colorado, pleaded guilty. On Oct. 20, Dejan Becovic, 24, of West Vallen City, Utah, pleaded guilty. Becovic also previously pleaded guilty in Utah to receipt of child pornography, and on Oct. 18, was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for the Utah conviction. On Sept. 29, Brandon Gressette, 33, of Summerville, South Carolina pleaded guilty to conspiracy to produce child pornography, as well as two substantive counts of production of child pornography. Additionally, another co-conspirator, Jonathan Soto, 27, of Branchburg, New Jersey, was prosecuted in the District of New Jersey and also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to produce child pornography. On March 31, Soto was sentenced to 18 years in federal prison for his role in the scheme.
The FBI is investigating the case. Trial Attorneys Lauren Britsch and Austin M. Berry of the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) and Assistant U.S. Attorney Dean Secor are prosecuting the case.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse, launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and CEOS, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit http://www.justice.gov/psc.