A South Jersey man on Monday admitted blackmailing a a 16-year-old Canadian girl into stripping naked on a webcam while he recorded her -- as part of what the Homeland Security authorities warned parents is a "growing threat."
Michael Van Culin, 32, of Salem County, "stalked a number of underage girls on the Internet, blackmailing them into sending him sexually explicit photos of themselves or exposing themselves on a webcam," acting New Jersey Attorney General John J. Hoffman said.
An investigation by the state Division of Criminal Justice and ICE Homeland Security Investigations led to Van Culin's guilty plea to charges of manufacturing child pornography.
Under the terms of his plea agreement, Van Culin didn't admit to obtaining what Hoffman said were sexually explicit photos or videos of four girls, three of whom were 14 to 16 years old at the time and one who was 17.
He also tried blackmailing a fifth girl into sending him sexually explicit photos but she refused, Hoffman said.
State prosecutors will recommend a 10-year state prison sentence -- 8½ years of which he must serve without parole -- in exchange for the guilty plea. He will be required to register as a sex offender under Megan’s Law and will be subject to parole supervision for life.
Van Culin was arrested on Feb. 10, 2014 as part of the joint “Operation Predator Alert” operation by the DCA and ICE that netted 28 defendants on charges of using a file-sharing network to download and distribute child pornography, including child rape videos, online.
“The use of social media, apps and other platforms as grooming tools by child sexual predators represents a growing threat,” Terence S. Opiola, the special agent in charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Newark. “This threat is one that, with the cooperation of our law enforcement partners in New Jersey, Homeland Security Investigations is meeting head-on."
Van Culin previously "engaged [the girl] in online chats with her in which he elicited information about her life that he used to hack into her email account and get other personal information, including email addresses for her family and friends," Hoffman said.
"He had password decoding software on his computer that generates likely passwords for a person from basic information, such as the person’s name, date of birth, favorite sports, and names of pets and siblings," he added. "Van Culin ultimately blackmailed the girl by threatening to expose personal information about her to her family using the contact information from her email account.
"Van Culin’s computer contained a video of the visibly shaken girl completely disrobing in front of a mirror under his orders."
Further investigation by HSI, the state DCA and partnering agencies in the various jurisdictions led to the discovery of additional victims in Arizona, Philadelphia, Maryland and Seattle, Hoffman said.
"In each case, Van Culin used similar methods, befriending the teenage girls on popular social media sites or in chat rooms, usually presenting himself as a teenage boy," Hoffman said.
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