Feeding the sexual fantasies of adolescent boys, adult men posed as teenage girls to collect thousands of pornographic videos from online victims in the United States and other countries, a federal investigation says.
Now, three members of the ring appear headed to prison.
Dane William Anderson, Mark Christopher Klein and Samuel Heineman were part of a ring of sex predators who operated between 2007 and 2014, court documents say. All have pleaded guilty to pornography or child-exploitation charges. They are scheduled to be sentenced later this year in Asheville federal court.
Before their arrests, several of the defendants helped produce a vast online archive of sexually explicit tapes involving hundreds of unsuspecting young men, according to prosecutors and an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security.
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In all, prosecutors say the group produced more than 4,000 videos that featured some 2,200 victims from a variety of countries. At any given time, the archived tapes were available to 10 or more ring members, documents say.
According to documents, the defendants used a sophisticated process known as “capping” to first lure their victims and then manipulate them into unwittingly performing in what would become pornographic videos.
Prosecutors say the conspiracy worked like this:
The “cappers” would scour social media sites for readily available photos and videos of teenage girls – most of it sexually explicit – which they used to establish online female personas. Posing under names like Sarah, Allie, Kerrie, Megan, Kylie and Heather, they’d hunt for young male targets, using the explicit videos and photographs of the girls to lure them into online relationships.
The men would then cajole their targets into performing sex acts using Skype or the webcams on their computers. Group members would then use a computer program to capture the activity and turn it into a video.
Prosecutors say the ring put a premium on finding boys who had never been “capped” before, and that members would compete to see how many of the youths they could manipulate into performing.
If a boy refused to take part, the predators would team up – Anderson called it “wolfpacking” – until the target complied, documents say. In one email exchange included in the case file, Anderson boasted about a particular conquest, listing the online aliases of the other men who had broken down the boy’s resistance.
The sex was not always virtual. In 2013, Anderson traveled to Henderson County, south of Asheville, to have oral sex with a 14-year-old whose parents were out of town, prosecutors say. He had met the boy online posing as “Kerrie.”
Heineman was one of the more prolific members, prosecutors say. He gave tips on everything from recruiting boys to how to position subjects for the best camera angles and production values.
Anderson, who lived near Asheville, learned capping from Heineman in 2008, documents say. In time, he became the group’s librarian, collecting, organizing and distributing the captured footage. He also produced 400 capping videos himself – part of the 17,000 videos and 10,000 images investigators eventually found in his possession, documents say.
Klein, of Minnesota, who used online aliases of “Allie” and “Sarahblackandblue,” was already capping when he met Anderson online in 2008-09, documents say. He joined Anderson’s group and began trading pornographic files with other members.
All will be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn.