A man in Washington State who posed as a teenager online and blackmailed girls as young as 12 across the country to send him sexually explicit photos and videos was sentenced on Monday to 20 years in prison, the federal authorities said.
The man, Joshua Henry Punt, 39, of Ridgefield, Wash., pleaded guilty in April to using the messaging apps Kik and Snapchat to connect with the girls, pressure them to send him sexually explicit images of themselves and then use that material to demand more content with the threat of publicly posting the images in his possession, the Justice Department said.
Eight victims, ranging in age from 12 to 16, were identified across the United States, including in Arkansas, California, Kentucky, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and West Virginia, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington.
“This predatory defendant infiltrated our homes, using electronic access and social media to deceive, pressure and sexually exploit young girls across the country,” Tessa M. Gorman, the acting U.S. attorney, said in the statement. “We warn our children about the ‘dangerous stranger’ they might encounter on the street — we must be equally vigilant about the ones who are lurking online.”
Colin Fieman, a lawyer for Mr. Punt, called the case “just a tragic situation all around.”
“Joshua was the victim of extreme childhood abuse,” Mr. Fieman, a federal public defender, said in an interview on Monday night. “He’s schizophrenic. He’s never had any mental health support. So there were a lot of mitigating and complicating circumstances with the case that the judge took into careful account today.”
Investigators identified Mr. Punt as the administrator of a child pornography distribution group on Kik, where he demanded that new members share content and barred those who failed to do so, the statement said, adding that an undercover employee of the Federal Bureau of Investigation found a cache of child pornography after following links posted by Mr. Punt.
According to the federal authorities, Mr. Punt pleaded guilty in April to production of child pornography, enticement of a minor, distribution of child pornography and advertisement of child pornography. He will be required to register as a sex offender after completing his prison sentence.
Mr. Punt was arrested by local authorities in May 2019 and charged federally in November of that year, the authorities said.
According to a federal complaint from November 2019, a 15-year-old girl whom investigators identified as the first victim said she had connected on Kik with someone claiming to be 17 years old. The person, who investigators said was Mr. Punt, demanded three days later that the girl send him explicit material. When she did so, he asked for more and threatened to distribute the images and videos of her in his possession throughout her hometown if she did not comply.
Mr. Punt, according to the complaint, sent screen shots to the girl of an apparent Kik group conversation, in which he shared her images, along with group members’ reactions. In response, the complaint said, the girl created and sent more sexually explicit content of herself “in order to prevent him from making her depictions public.”
When Mr. Punt would not stop harassing the girl, continued to threaten her and demanded more material, she and her parents in December 2018 contacted the New York State Police and the F.B.I., which began investigating.
“Mr. Punt is a prime example of what is referred to as a ‘sextortionist,’” Donald Voiret, an F.B.I. agent, said in the statement. “While he will be serving time in a federal penitentiary for his actions, I would encourage parents everywhere to engage with their children about the risks of online predators.”
At a sentencing hearing on Monday, Judge Benjamin H. Settle of U.S. District Court said the damage inflicted by Mr. Punt would go on for decades, “rippling through lives,” according to the statement.
He also addressed Mr. Punt directly: “You could see the pain in those girls, and you continued to do it — to eight precious, innocent young girls — you tortured them.”
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