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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, January 28, 2019

Texas Man Sentenced to 35 Years in Prison for “Sextorting” Minors in Eight States

A Texas man was sentenced on Jan. 9 to 420 months in prison, to be followed by a lifetime of supervised release, for producing child pornography in 2016 and committing a sex-related felony involving a minor while being required to register as a sex offender, announced Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney John C. Milhiser of the Central District of Illinois. 

Mark P. Barnwell, 36, of Whitehouse, Texas, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Joe Billy McDade of the Central District of Illinois on Aug. 29, 2018, to one count of producing child pornography and one count of committing a sex-related felony involving a minor while being required to register as a sex offender.

According to admissions made in connection with his guilty plea, Barnwell, at the time a registered sex offender, exploited minors online through the use of false personas on Facebook. Barnwell controlled multiple female-presenting profiles on Facebook.  Using these profiles, Barnwell contacted female Facebook profile users and advertised a modeling opportunity he claimed would pay up to thousands of dollars per photo shoot.

At Barnwell’s urging, the minors that accepted the offer then took and sent to him photographs that they believed were being produced for the purposes of a modeling portfolio. The minor victims believed they would be paid by cash, check, or direct deposit once they completed the modeling portfolio process. At Barnwell’s explicit direction, the photographs taken by the minors progressed from various stages of undress to sexually suggestive and/or sexually explicit photographs of themselves. 

Once he obtained compromising images, Barnwell threatened to injure the minor victims’ reputations and embarrass them by posting their nude pictures online if they failed to comply with demands for additional images.  In total, Barnwell used this scheme to obtain nude photographs from 43 minor victims located in nine judicial districts across eight states.

In addition to the material, including videos and images, relating to sexual exploitation of children discovered on Barnwell’s devices, law enforcement authorities also found multiple videos captured by Barnwell, including several where he filmed up women’s skirts in public or attempted to do so.  Authorities additionally discovered a large number of videos where Barnwell surreptitiously filmed women using public bathrooms.  The authorities also discovered what is believed to be the hidden camera he used to capture the videos.

The charges are the result of a joint investigation by the U.S. Secret Service, the Peoria Police Department, and the Peoria County Sheriff’s Office.  Vital assistance was provided by the U.S. Attorneys’ offices for the Central District of California, Southern District of Mississippi, District of Nevada, Eastern District of Texas, Northern District of Texas, Western District of Washington, Northern District of Iowa, and Southern District of West Virginia.  This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ronald Hanna and Katherine Legge of the Central District of Illinois and Trial Attorney William Grady of the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS). 

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 www.justice.gov/psc.

Topic(s): 
Project Safe Childhood
Press Release Number: 
19-42
Updated February 1, 2019