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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Middle District of Florida

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, April 17, 2015

Facebook Child Predator Sentenced To 40 Years In Federal Prison

Tampa, FL – U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore has sentenced Melvin Barber Bridgers, III (34, Tarpon Springs, formerly of Greenville, North Carolina) to 40 years in federal prison for the production, receipt, and distribution of child pornography.  The Court also ordered him to forfeit the cellular telephones and computers that he had used to commit the offenses. Bridgers pleaded guilty on December 11, 2014.

According to court documents, from at least December 2012, through his arrest on May 1, 2014, Bridgers used multiple Facebook accounts to pose as a young teenage girl and befriend other girls between the ages of 10 and 16 years old. After befriending the minors, he engaged in online chats with them and used manipulation, coercion, threats, and extortion to compel the minors to send him sexually graphic photographs through Facebook. Bridgers then threatened the minor victims with exposing the sexually graphic photos to their parents, or to other Internet users, in order to extort more sexually graphic photographs and videos from them.

Bridgers, who moved to Tarpon Springs from North Carolina in the fall of 2013, came to law enforcement’s attention when a 12-year-old victim in the Houston, Texas, area reported the Facebook activity to her mother after Bridgers threatened to expose that victim unless she sent him sexually explicit photographs of her 7-year-old sister.  The victim’s mother then contacted the authorities.

On May 1, 2014, law enforcement executed a federal search warrant at Bridgers’s residence and obtained computer media containing numerous chat logs with the minor victims, as well as over 28,000 images and videos containing child pornography. Law enforcement agents estimate that over a two-year period, Bridgers attempted to make contact with and sexually extort, or “sextort,” thousands of young girls on Facebook. To date, approximately 129 of Bridgers’ victims have been positively identified, making this one of the largest online child “sextortion” cases prosecuted in the United States.

“The staggering number of victims in this case is sickening,” said Susan L. McCormick, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations - Tampa. “While we cannot undo the damage to these young people, we can ensure that this criminal will not be able to harm them anymore.”

This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations – Tampa, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, and the Webster (Texas) Police Department. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Josephine W. Thomas.

This case was 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 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.justice.gov/psc.

Topic(s): 
Project Safe Childhood
Component(s): 
Updated April 17, 2015