A Marion man convicted of using Snapchat to coerce underage girls into sending him sexually explicit photos was sentenced Tuesday in federal court.
Hunter Royal, 23, previously pleaded guilty to one count of persuading, inducing, enticing or coercing minors to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing visual depictions of such conduct, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney Daniel Bubar's office. Bubar and Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Raymond Villanueva made the announcement.
The release said Royal had contacted numerous girls, some of them as young as 12 years old. He was sentenced to 27 years in federal prison.
“Royal exploited these minor victims, meeting them online, and is a parent's worst nightmare. This lengthy sentence ought to send a clear message to would-be online predators: Your behavior will not be tolerated, and you will be brought to justice,” Bubar said. “These cases are some of the most important that we do, and I am grateful for the hard work of Homeland Security and our other federal and local law enforcement partners, who will continue to work tirelessly to vindicate the interests of vulnerable victims and protect them from harm.”
According to the release, Royal admitted to using several different Snapchat accounts to contact underage girls. His general pattern was to pretend to be a young female on Snapchat and initiate contact with other, actual females, the release said. He would then exchange messages with his victims to gain their trust sometimes by sending the victim photos of a young girl he was claiming to be. Royal would then steer the conversation toward sexual issues and convince the girl to take and send sexually explicit photos herself, the release said, and then threaten to black mail or use other coercive tactics to obtain more images.
While carrying out the scheme, Royal also distributed some of the images, the release said.
After his arrest, the release said, Royal asked a family member to buy a “burner phone, log in to his Snapchat accounts using public wi-fi, and delete the contents of his accounts.
“This individual preyed upon minors, using fear and shame to extort exploitative material,” Villanueva said. “The sentence handed down today reflects the seriousness of this crime. HSI is committed to investigating and seeking prosecution for those who seek to exploit children online.”
The investigation of the case was conducted by HSI, with assistance from the U.S. Marshals Service, the Marion Police Department and the Port St. Lucie Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Whit Pierce prosecuted the case.