“These alleged crimes, and the facts behind them, portray an online predator who methodically planned and executed his criminal scheme,” said U.S. Attorney Mark Totten. “We are handling this case with the utmost seriousness and will continue to work every day to protect the public – and especially our young people – from those online who would do them harm.”
The Indictment alleges Winfree posted a false advertisement for an au pair, arranged for a teenager to travel from Italy to East Lansing to work for him, and then kidnapped and raped her. In luring the Italian teen to West Michigan, Winfree told her his fictional family loved nature and the outdoors, and that she was going to have so much fun:
Once she arrived, Winfree demanded the Italian teen clean his house before handcuffing her, placing a ball gag in her mouth, and raping her. Winfree used his false au pair advertisement to lure another teenager to travel to his house, this one from Kansas. When her family realized the situation was not safe, they contacted the police, who then responded and removed her from Winfree’s house.
Winfree is also charged with sexual exploitation of two minor girls for producing child pornography of them. The defendant recorded himself having sexual intercourse with one of the girls, and he convinced the other to send him pornographic videos through the smartphone application SnapChat. In speaking with a friend, Winfree stated he wanted to use one of the girls to recruit more high school girls for him to sexually exploit:
The United States filed a criminal complaint against Winfree on January 23, 2023, he was arrested the next day, and a magistrate judge ordered him detained pending grand jury review.
“While the harm Mr. Winfree is alleged to have inflicted on these victims cannot be undone, the charges announced are a first step towards getting justice for the brave young women who came forward to tell their stories,” said James A. Tarasca, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Michigan. “More young women would have undoubtedly been victimized but for the hard work of the FBI and the East Lansing Police Department. We remain committed to working with our partners to pursue those who seek to harm members of our community.”
This case is part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative designed to protect children from exploitation and abuse. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan; county prosecutor’s offices; HSI; Michigan State Police’s Internet Crimes Against Children task force; the West Michigan Based Child Exploitation Task Force (WEBCHEX); and federal, state, and local law enforcement are working closely together to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who exploit children. Anyone with information or concerns about possible child exploitation should contact local law enforcement. For more information about Project Safe Childhood in West Michigan, including resources for children and parents, please visit: https://www.justice.gov/usao-wdmi/project-safe-childhood
The FBI and East Lansing Police Department are investigating this case, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Davin Reust is handling the prosecution of Winfree.
The charges in an indictment are merely accusations, and a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in a court of law.