KUSA - Detectives are warning parents about an emerging crime called "sextortion" where online predators are blackmailing teens into creating child pornography. A three-month investigation by 9Wants to Know discovered five Colorado-based cases exposing how these offenders operate.
According to a March 2012 police report, 20-year-old Jorge Ortiz admitted to Commerce City officers that he had an "addiction to young girls." He reportedly befriended a dozen girls from Kearney Middle School, but later the girls would say things got weird. One teen said Ortiz fondled her in a park, and several say he threatened to stalk or harm them if they did not send him naked photos. The girls reported the crime to school administrators and officers. Police say they arrested Ortiz one day after he was lurking around the middle school.
"The kids did feel worried and concerned and in danger," said Pat Sanchez, superintendent of the Adams 14 School District. "Thank God they had a good relationship with the adults in that building and they felt comfortable coming forward."
Ortiz was charged with eight felonies including sexual exploitation of children, sexual assault, criminal extortion and stalking.
"Ortiz had the potential to be very dangerous" Adams County District Attorney Dave Young said. "When they get away with it - the first step, then they go to the second step, the third step, the fourth step, and that's probably what's fueling his fire." Ortiz never went to trial in the Kearney Middle School case because he committed suicide in jail.
Other Colorado court-documented sextortion cases include:
• A California fraternity boy started a relationship with a Weld County girl on MySpace. He convinced her to sext risqué photos, and then he used those photos to blackmail her. He eventually asked her to perform acts of prostitution and perform sex acts with young children on camera.
• A 20-year-old Conifer man met a 14-year-old girl on Facebook. Over a series of texts he influenced her to take increasingly revealing photos of herself. She told officers he also said he wanted to have sex with her. Investigators believe the man had similar photos of at least five other girls and he distributed those photos to his friends.
• A hacker who tapped into the computer of a Colorado School of Mines student. He threatened to put her topless photos on Facebook if she didn't send him more explicit photos.
• An Adams County teen said her former online boyfriend, who lived in Texas, re-contacted her. He demanded she send him photos of her genitals or he would post online sexually explicit photos she had sexted to him when she was 16 years old.
Experts say young victims underreport sextortion crimes.
"The last thing they want to do is come forward and say I made this mistake of sending my naked picture out," said Jefferson County District Attorney Investigator Mike Harris, who runs the Cheezo Internet Crime Prevention program. "That's a very difficult position to put a kid in."
"You see a range of anxiety: Depression to suicidal thoughts," said California attorney Erica Johnstone, founder of a non-profit group called Without My Consent. She recommends victims take steps to preserve evidence, such as taking screen shots of text threats or photos posted online.
Johnstone also encourages young women to get out quickly.
"Don't play that game where you sort of feel like I'm already in it this much maybe I can save myself by giving him another photo. That's probably not going to happen," she said.