Missouri high school teacher sentenced to 30 years for sextortion scheme targeting children

Brandon McCullough, 31, was also ordered to spend the rest of his life on supervised release after serving his 30-year sentence in prison and was additionally asked to pay $204,199

Johanna Chisholm
Wednesday 03 August 2022 14:11 BST
Police launch 'sextortion' video to fight online crime

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Louise Thomas

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A Missouri high school teacher was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison for compelling children online to send him sexually explicit images and videos in a sextortion scheme involving 11 identified victims and dozens more who could not be identified.

US District Judge M Douglas Harpool handed down the 30-year sentence without parole to Brandon McCullough, 31, in a federal court on Tuesday. The business teacher, who at the time of the offence was employed at Cassville High School – about 20 miles north of the Arkansas state line – was also ordered to pay $204,199 in restitution to one of his juvenile victims and will be on supervised release for the rest of his life after serving his prison term.

McCullough pleaded guilty on 4 August 2021 to three counts of the sexual exploitation of a minor and two counts of coercing and enticing a minor to engage in illicit sexual activity.

Federal prosecutors were initially tipped off about McCullough’s insidious online activities in February 2020 after receiving a call from police in New Jersey who had been contacted by the mother of a 14-year-old victim.

The mother, whose daughter would later come to be known as Jane Doe 1 in court records, told local authorities that her daughter was using Kik – an instant messaging app where users can communicate without revealing their actual names or phone numbers – and became engaged in a blackmailing scheme where a user later identified as McCullough asked her to send sexually explicit images to him.

Brandon McCullough, 31, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for blackmailing dozens of children over the internet
Brandon McCullough, 31, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for blackmailing dozens of children over the internet ( Greene County Jail)

With Jane Doe 1, McCullough posed as a 15-year-old boy under the username “brianmagee8809”. The pair began talking in May 2019, and throughout their conversations, McCullough coerced the child to send sexually explicit images and videos and would threaten to pass that content along to her friends and family unless she provided more.

Prosecutors also uncovered that McCullough had used another false persona on the Kik app to speak with Jane Doe 1, this time posing as a 17-year-old boy. In those conversations, Jane Doe confided in McCullough’s second false persona about how she was being blackmailed by another user, and in response, he told the 14-year-old that it would be best to continue meeting his demands.

“This defendant, a high school teacher, pretended to be a teenager online in order to prey upon young victims across the country,” US Attorney Teresa Moore of the Western District of Missouri said in a press release from the Department of Justice. “He enticed countless child victims to send him explicit images of themselves, then threatened to share those images with their families and friends over social media unless they continued to send him even more explicit images and videos. Such appalling criminal behavior warrants the severe penalty he received today.”

After the New Jersey mother of Jane Doe 1 reached out to local authorities and they followed up by contacting federal investigators in Missouri, a search warrant was executed on the high school teacher’s residence on 7 May 2020.

While searching McCullough’s southern Missouri home, they uncovered an external hard drive that had been hidden away under a basket that had been tucked under a bathroom sink in the basement.

Stored on the hard drive were dozens of folders from McCullough’s time spent on Kik, which included conversations with minors as well as thousands of images and videos of underage children, all of which were self-produced by the victims.

Prosecutors noted that though they were only able to identify a total of 11 of the child victims, they were able to confirm that some of the victims were younger than Jane Doe 1.

Jane Doe 2, who according to the plea agreement was a 12-year-old victim from Texas that was interviewed by authorities shortly after the search warrant was executed, confirmed that she had also been blackmailed by McCullough, but their conversations had started when she was in fact 11 years old.

A forensic examination of McCullough’s computer revealed that he executed a similar pattern with each of his victims, promising that he would delete all earlier images and videos while extorting the victims to produce more sexually explicit content for him.

Prosecutors noted that this activity began as early as 1 November 2018 but was likely happening before then as well.

“McCullough admitted to contacting minors through Kik to solicit sexually explicit images,” court documents read. “McCullough stated he began using Kik to engage in sexual chats in 2014, and the chats eventually progressed to sexual chats with minors.”

Homeland Security, who assisted in carrying out the investigation into McCullough’s activities, warned in a statement that the public should continue to be on the lookout for – and report – suspicious online behaviour, “regardless of whether the individual is in a position of public trust, like McCullough”.

“Today’s sentencing is reflective of just how despicable and damaging McCullough’s crimes against children are and emphasizes HSI’s dedication to hold perpetrators accountable,” said HSI Special Agent in Charge of the Kansas City area of operations Katherine Greer.

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