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Press Release

Texas Man Pleads Guilty to "Sextorting" Minors in Illinois

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Central District of Illinois

PEORIA, Ill. – Sentencing is scheduled in January 2019, for a Texas man, Mark P. Barnwell, 35, who pleaded guilty to producing child pornography in 2016 and threatening minor victims in Illinois and seven other states while he was required to register as a sex offender.

Barnwell, of Whitehouse, Texas entered guilty pleas in Peoria before U.S. District Judge Joe Billy McDade on Aug. 29. Sentencing is scheduled on Jan. 9, 2019.

According to admissions made in connection with his guilty plea, Barnwell, a registered sex offender, used false personas on Facebook and controlled multiple female-presenting profiles to contact female Facebook users, including minors, and advertised a modeling opportunity he claimed would pay up to thousands of dollars per photo shoot.

At Barnwell’s urging, the minors who accepted the offer then took, and sent to him, photographs which 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 United States 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.  The matter 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


Updated April 18, 2023

Project Safe Childhood