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TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that a New Jersey man was indicted today on charges that he used social media to manipulate and threaten a 14-year-old girl from another state, forcing her to send him pictures of herself performing sexual acts.
The Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Cyber Crimes Bureau today obtained a state grand jury indictment charging Jason Berry, 41, of Keansburg, N.J., with the following crimes:
- Manufacturing Child Sexual Abuse Material (1st degree)
- Aggravated Sexual Assault (1st degree)
- Extortion (2nd degree)
- Distribution of Child Sexual Abuse Material (2nd degree)
- Possession of Child Sexual Abuse Material, 100 or More Items (3rd Degree)
- Promoting Obscene Material to a Person Under 18 (3rd degree)
- Impairing/Debauching the Morals of a Child (3rd degree).
The charges stem from an investigation by the New Jersey State Police Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Unit, the Division of Criminal Justice, and partnering law enforcement agencies in the home state of the victim. That state is not being identified to protect the victim.
After initially befriending the victim on social media, Berry allegedly threatened to harm her and her family if she did not comply with his demands. He allegedly demanded that the girl photograph herself engaging in acts of sexual penetration. Berry also allegedly sent the girl sexually explicit photos and videos of himself. He allegedly coerced the girl into carving his initials into her leg and above her breast with a razor blade. Later, he allegedly sent nude photos of the victim to the victim’s mother.
“This case starkly illustrates the dangers of social media and the need for parents to warn their children about these dangers,” said Attorney General Grewal. “The victim in this case thought Berry was another teenager seeking a friend. However, we allege that his friendly advances quickly turned into intimidation and extortion. I commend the New Jersey State Police, the Division of Criminal Justice, and our out-of-state partners for this investigation. We will continue to make child protection a top priority and aggressively investigate online predators.”
“Every parent should be aware of the horrific details of these allegations, because it demonstrates how powerful online predators can be, although they may be hundreds of miles away, by using threats and manipulation to assault their victims both mentally and physically,” said Colonel Patrick J. Callahan, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “And while we will continue initiatives like ‘Operation Screen Capture’ to root out these depraved criminals, we need parents to join us in the fight by closely monitoring the online activity of their children and educating them about the dangers of online predators.”
Berry was arrested on June 18, 2020, as part of “Operation Screen Capture,” a collaborative operation launched in response to a dramatic increase in reports of potential threats to children from online predators during the COVID pandemic. Twenty-one defendants were charged in the operation with predatory behavior against children or possession and/or distribution of child sexual abuse materials. Berry is being detained in the Monmouth County Jail pending trial.
Deputy Attorney General Adedayo Adu presented the indictment charging Berry to the state grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) Financial & Cyber Crimes Bureau, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Lilianne Daniel, Bureau Chief Jillian Carpenter, and DCJ Acting Director Annmarie Taggart. Attorney General Grewal commended all of the detectives, attorneys, and officers who conducted the investigation for the New Jersey State Police ICAC Unit, Division of Criminal Justice, and partnering agencies outside New Jersey.
First-degree charges carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison and a fine of up to $200,000. Second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while third-degree crimes carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. Fourth-degree crimes carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
In addition to investigating cyber tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, members of the New Jersey State Police Internet Crimes Against Children Unit, the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Cyber Crimes Bureau, and the New Jersey Regional Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force routinely conduct undercover chat investigations on social media platforms leading to arrests of hands-on offenders and defendants attempting to lure children. They also conduct proactive investigations to apprehend offenders by monitoring peer-to-peer file-sharing networks and identifying the IP addresses of individuals sharing child sexual abuse material.
Attorney General Grewal urged anyone with information about the distribution of child sexual abuse material on the internet—or about suspected improper contact by unknown persons communicating with children via the internet or possible exploitation or sexual abuse of children—to please contact the New Jersey Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Tipline at 888-648-6007.
Defense Attorney: Michael L. Kuhns, Esq., of Lawrence Township, N.J.