A prolific sextortionist has been brought to justice in the Southern District of Illinois.
Joshua P. Breckel, 21, of Mascoutah, Illinois, was sentenced today to 420 months in federal prison after spending years exploiting and blackmailing young girls over the internet. The sentencing comes three months after Breckel pleaded guilty to a 10-count felony information as part of a negotiated plea deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. United States District Judge Staci M. Yandle accepted the terms of the deal, including the stipulated 35-year sentence she handed down today.
Beginning in early 2016 and continuing until his arrest on July 8, 2018, Breckel repeatedly used computers, mobile phones, interactive computer services, and the internet to obtain sexually explicit images and videos from dozens of minor females located throughout the United States and internationally. Breckel found his victims on social media and messaging applications, including Facebook, Instagram, LiveMe, Kik, and Snapchat. He was able to persuade them to send him nude images by feigning a romantic interest in them, offering them money, or threatening them.
To ensure he was getting true images of the girls, Breckel often asked them to include their faces in the pictures or to hold up three fingers. Most of the girls who sent Breckel naked pictures and videos did so using Snapchat, a multi-media messaging application known for making message content inaccessible to recipients shortly after it is received. But Breckel used a screen recording device to capture and save the compromising images before they disappeared. He would then threaten to send their salacious photos to their family, friends, and online contacts unless the victims sent him additional photos and videos per his instructions.
Some victims complied with Breckel’s demands, while others did not. Those who complied were often subjected to escalating extortion demands and more threats, until they eventually stopped communicating with him. Breckel traded some of the explicit images and videos he obtained with other internet users using Kik, a mobile messaging application.
Law enforcement first became aware of Breckel in April 2018, when a 15 year old girl in New Jersey identified as C.S. reported to her mother that she had been threatened online by someone on Whisper with the screen name “User_Pure” and Snapchat account “thatonekidukno1.”
Local authorities were able to track the user back to Breckel’s home in Mascoutah, Illinois.
As part of his plea deal with the United States, Breckel admitted sending threatening communications to C.S. in an attempt to obtain sexually explicit photos and videos of her. Breckel also pleaded guilty to producing and distributing child pornography and sending extortionate threats over the internet. Among his many victims were three 15 year old girls from California, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, a 12 year old girl from Illinois, and a 10 year old girl from Ohio. Breckel admitted that he threatened to kill the Ohio girl if she didn’t send him naked pictures of herself.
In imposing sentence, Judge Yandle found that the 35 year sentence was appropriate for the important purpose of sending a general deterrence message to other would-be offenders. Judge Yandle noted that as a society “we are living in a different world. A world where it is common for young people to engage in online relationships, share intimate digital photos and not be bothered by cyber intimidation and bullying.”
Judge Yandle further noted that the long sentence would ensure the protection of the public. The mother of one victim gave an impact statement at sentencing and discussed the damage that the crime had done to her daughter. She stated that her daughter had become very depressed, withdrawn from her friends, and lost interest in hobbies and school activities. Judge Yandle noted how destructive the defendant’s actions had been to his victims and their families She stated that Breckel “would not be back on the street until he had received treatment.” Breckel’s term of imprisonment will be followed by a lifetime period of supervised release.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, 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.usdoj.gov/psc. For more information about internet safety education, please visit www.usdoj.gov/psc and click on the tab “resources.”
The investigation was conducted by the FBI, the Mascoutah Police Department, and the Middlesex, New Jersey Police Department. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Christopher Hoell and Nathan D. Stump.