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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Michigan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, April 23, 2019

A Washington State Man Was Sentenced to 55 years On Child Exploitation Charges

A man from Shoreline, Washington was sentenced yesterday to 55 years’ imprisonment for his role in an international child pornography ring, announced United States Attorney Matthew Schneider.

Schneider was joined in the announcement by Special Agent in Charge Timothy Slater of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Detroit Division.

“The way that these offenders worked together to manipulate innocent girls for their own sexual gratification is truly horrific.  And, the way that this defendant in particular extorted these children is especially heinous,” said United States Attorney Schneider.  “Parents, please speak with your children about sextortion and cyberbullying so we can keep all of our children safe.”

Sentenced was Michael Berenson, age 30.  In addition to his prison sentence and term of supervised release, Berenson was ordered to pay 5,000 in restitution to each of the identified victims, reaching a total of over 80,000 dollars.  United States District Judge Judith Levy of the Eastern District of Michigan imposed the sentence. 

According to court records, from at least January 2012 to November 2014, Berenson was part of a group of individuals that worked together, using the Internet, to entice minor females to produce child pornography via web camera on an unmonitored chatroom-based website.  The men recruited the victims from common social media platforms by pretending to be teenage boys interested in chatting with the girls in real time.  Once the victims arrived in the chatrooms, the group—all pretending to be teenagers—worked together to build trust and convince the children to engage in sexually explicit conduct on web cameras.  Group members then recorded that activity.  The girls were unaware that the men were making recordings.  Berenson is the 25th defendant to be sentenced here in the Eastern District of Michigan for conspiring to exploit children on this unmonitored website.

Berenson participated in this group from its inception in 2012 until this particular group ceased activity.  Berenson however, remained active, targeting minors, directing them to engage in sexual acts, recording such acts and blackmailing the minors until the execution of a search warrant at his residence on May 10, 2017.  Berenson also encouraged girls to self-harm and recorded them doing so.

Berenson admitted to victimizing over 1,000 minor girls over the course of the last 10 years.  Some of the girls were as young as nine years old. 

To date, a forensic examination of his devices recovered over 9,600 videos and images of child pornography and 105,347 child exploitive videos and images.  Berenson recorded over 1,128 hours of videos of child pornography and over 3,000 hours of child exploitive conduct.  Sixteen parents and victims were present for the sentencing hearing and made statements to the Court.  Among those present was Carol Todd, the mother of Amanda Todd who died by suicide in October of 2012. A website dedicated to Amanda Todd can be found at http://www.amandatoddlegacy.org/.   The FBI has so-far identified approximately 20 victims in the United States.

Assistant United States Attorneys April Russo and Kevin Mulcahy of the Eastern District of Michigan prosecuted the case.  The FBI’s Detroit Field Office and Southeast Michigan Trafficking and Exploitation Crimes task force investigated the case.

The 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.

Topic(s): 
Project Safe Childhood
Updated April 23, 2019