INDIANAPOLIS — A self-confessed "sextortionist" from Indiana was sentenced to 40 years in prison on Wednesday for coercing more than a dozen teenagers into performing sex acts online.
Richard Finkbiner admitted that he tricked the young people into stripping or performing sexual acts while on a webcam, recorded those sessions and then threatened to post the videos online unless the teens made more explicit videos for his personal use. Prosecutors allege that the 40-year-old targeted hundreds of minors across the country, some as young as 12 years old.
"For nearly two years, this man sat in front of his home computer and orchestrated a scheme that terrorized hundreds of young people across this country," U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett said in a prepared statement.
Finkbiner, who lives in Brazil, Ind., agreed in January to plead guilty to child exploitation, extortion and possession of child pornography in exchange for a recommended sentence of 30 to 50 years in prison. He also was ordered to pay $70,000.
In sentencing Finkbiner, U.S. District Judge William T. Lawrence noted that scores of his underage victims had not been identified. The alleged victims ranged in age from 12 to 17 and lived in at least 11 states – Indiana, West Virginia, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, New York, Michigan, Illinois, Colorado, Minnesota and Alaska.
Prosecutors said a review of Finkbiner's email and chat logs showed at least 153 victims, including 20 identified by investigators. Investigators who analyzed electronic media seized from him revealed more than 22,000 video files captured from webcam feeds, about half of which depict sexual conduct, according to court documents.
"The sheer number of individuals Finkbiner exploited and extorted justifies a sentence Finkbiner is almost certain not to outlive," prosecutors argued in court documents.
Finkbiner's attorney, chief federal public defender Monica Foster, said Finkbiner had been a law-abiding citizen for 40 years, until he "fell off the edge" due to untreated mental illness.
The judge also ordered Finkbiner to be supervised by federal officials for the rest of his life following his release.
According to prosecutors, Finkbiner met most or all of his victims on a video chat website that offers users random, anonymous one-on-one chats with strangers. The site says it is not for use by children under age 13 or by teenagers younger than 18 who don't have the permission from a parent or guardian.
Prosecutors said the teens thought they were looking at live images of people who were acting sexually and encouraging the teens to do the same, but the images were actually recordings Finkbiner was showing them. He would later contact the teens again and threaten to upload their explicit images to porn websites unless they made more videos for his private use, prosecutors said.
In one case cited in court records, a 12-year-old Michigan boy pleaded with Finkbiner not to upload explicit videos of him after he refused to do any more, but Finkbiner posted them on the Internet anyway.
Prosecutors said the case is an example of "sextortion," a crime that authorities are seeing with greater frequency in which Internet predators catch victims in embarrassing situations online and threaten to expose them unless they create sexually explicit photos or videos.
Foster said the case showed how vital it is for parents to be aware of what their children do on the Internet.
"I think our kids are sometimes doing things on the Internet that we don't know anything about, and it's very important to be proactive about the sites that we're vising and who they're talking with," she said.
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