EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. (WEHT) – Court documents said on Nov. 18, a federal jury found Michael A. Ferris, 44, of Mill Shoals, Illinois, guilty of 25 counts of extortion, cyberstalking, and production, distribution, and possession of child pornography involving nine minor victims.
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, from at least March 2020 until November 2020, Ferris targeted teenage girls on Facebook and engaged in a pattern of extortion commonly known as “sextortion.” Officials said his victims ranged in age from 11 to 17 years old, and traveled from across the country to confront him at trial.
Court documents said as part of his scheme, Ferris created fake Facebook personas appearing to be teenage girls. He also joined Facebook groups meant for teenagers and survivors of sexual abuse. Ferris sent unsolicited messages to teenage girls under the guise of being a peer looking to make a new friend.
If the teens responded, Ferris tried to convince them to send a nude photograph or answer personal questions about themselves. Court documents said Ferris then used that information as leverage to coerce them into sending more explicit photos, answering more sexual questions, or performing sexual acts on themselves or others while Ferris watched on video chat.
Authorities said if Ferris’s victims refused to comply, or pleaded to stop, Ferris harassed and threatened them until they kept going, usually threatening to send the girls’ photos or answers to personal questions to their friends, parents, police, or child protective services. Even after Ferris’ victims complied with his demands, he would often still distribute their sexually explicit images to friends and family.
“Ferris preyed upon some of the most vulnerable people in the community, children, by using shame and fear to gain power over them,” said United States Attorney Rachelle Crowe. “Fortunately, those minor victims and their families came from across the country to testify and hold Ferris accountable for his disturbing demands. Discussions with children about their social media use and who they can talk to about problems online help to combat predators like Michael Ferris.”