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Texas Sex Offender Sentenced to 35 Years in Prison for ‘Sextorting’ Minors in Eight States; 28 Minors in Central Illinois

PEORIA, Ill. – A northeastern Texas man, Mark P. Barnwell, has been ordered to serve 35 years in prison for producing child pornography in 2016 and threatening minor victims in Illinois and seven other states while he was required to register as a sex offender. U.S. District Judge Joe Billy McDade sentenced Barnwell on Jan. 9, 2019, to 25 years for production of child pornography to be followed by 10 years for having committed the crimes while he was required to register as a sex offender. Barnwell was ordered to remain on supervised release for the remainder of his life after he completes the 35-year prison term.

According to court documents and admissions made in court, Barnwell, 36, lived in a shed behind a relative’s house in Whitehouse, Texas. Barnwell’s victims included minor-aged girls, including 28 from Central Illinois communities, and victims from California, Iowa, Mississippi, Nevada, Texas, Washington, and West Virginia.

Barnwell entered his pleas of guilty on Aug. 29, 2018. Barnwell admitted that while he was a registered sex offender, he exploited minors online by using false personas on Facebook. Barnwell controlled multiple female-presenting profiles which he used to contact female Facebook users, including minors, and advertised a modeling opportunity he claimed would pay up to thousands of dollars per photo shoot.

At Barnwell’s urging, the minors who accepted the offer then took, and sent to him, photographs which they believed were being produced for the purposes of a modeling portfolio. The minor victims believed they would be paid by cash, check, or direct deposit once they completed the modeling portfolio process. At Barnwell’s explicit direction, the photographs taken by the minors progressed from various stages of undress to sexually suggestive and/or sexually explicit photographs of themselves. 

Once he obtained compromising images, Barnwell threatened to injure the minor victims’ reputations and embarrass them by posting their nude pictures online if they failed to comply with his demands for additional images.  In total, Barnwell used this scheme to obtain nude photographs from 43 minor victims located in nine judicial districts across eight states.

In addition to the videos and images related to sexual exploitation of children on Barnwell’s devices, law enforcement authorities found multiple videos captured by Barnwell, including several where he filmed up women’s skirts in public or attempted to do so, and a large number of videos where Barnwell surreptitiously filmed women using public bathrooms. Authorities also discovered what is believed to be the hidden camera he used to capture the videos.

The charges are the result of a joint investigation by the U.S. Secret Service, the Peoria Police Department, and the Peoria County Sheriff’s Office. Vital assistance was provided by the United States Attorneys’ offices for the Central District of California, Southern District of Mississippi, District of Nevada, Eastern District of Texas, Northern District of Texas, Western District of Washington, Northern District of Iowa, and Southern District of West Virginia. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ronald Hanna and Katherine Legge of the Central District of Illinois, Peoria Division, and Trial Attorney William Grady of the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS). 

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice.  Led by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and CEOS, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims.  For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.justice.gov/psc.

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Author: January 15, 2019

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