A U.S. District Court judge sentenced an Illinois man to 75 years in federal prison April 17 after he was found guilty of conducting a sextortion scheme on Facebook with multiple victims ranging in ages from 11 to 17 years old.
Michael A. Ferris, 44, of Mill Shoals, Illinois, was convicted by a jury in November 2022 on 25 felony counts of extortion, cyberstalking, and production, distribution, and possession of child pornography. Following his 75-year prison sentence, he will serve the rest of his life on supervised release.
Southern Oregon Child Exploitation Team (SOCET) began the investigation after receiving a report from a local child victim. Through further investigations, SOCET discovered 29 child victims throughout the United States and Canada. SOCET worked with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) to identify the out-of-state victims and build the federal case.
“Combating child exploitation is a team effort and requires cooperation at the federal, state and local levels,” said HSI Chicago Special Agent in Charge Sean Fitzgerald. “The efforts to bring this individual to justice have resulted in one less predator on the streets who would look to victimize our children and endanger our communities.”
This conviction stems from a report Jackson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO) took May 8, 2020 of a sex offense in the Rogue Valley. The mother of a minor child victim reported her daughter came in contact with an unknown suspect posing as a friend on Facebook. Using threats and intimidation, the suspect coerced the juvenile to send him nude photos. SOCET took over the investigation and discovered Ferris victimized many other minor children sexually, including a victim in Salem, Ore.
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, Ferris targeted teenage girls on Facebook and engaged in a pattern of extortion, commonly known as “sextortion” from at least March 2020 until November 2020. During the trial, a SOCET investigator traveled to Illinois to present evidence.
As part of his scheme, Ferris created fake Facebook personas appearing to be teenage girls. He joined Facebook groups for teenagers or young 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. Ferris then used that information as leverage to coerce them into sending more explicit photos, answering more sexual questions, or performing sexual acts while Ferris watched on video chat. If his 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.
The investigation was conducted by agents from HSI – Springfield with assistance from HSI domestic and international offices, JCSO, Jefferson County Illinois Sheriff’s Office, Illinois State Police, and Aurora Missouri Police Department. Victim and Witness Support was provided by the U.S. Attorneys’ Office from the Southern District of Illinois, the Eastern District of Missouri, and HSI.
SOCET enables local law enforcement agencies to collaborate with federal partners such as HSI, to effectively investigate and prosecute out-of-state suspects when they victimize children in our community. SOCET is a joint inter-agency task force that started in June of 2020 to combat child exploitation and human trafficking.