Man Pleads Guilty to Manufacturing Child Pornography by Blackmailing 16-Year-Old Girl Into Stripping Naked on Webcam While He Recorded Her

Michael Van Culin, 32, of Monroeville, N.J., pleaded guilty to a first-degree charge of manufacturing child pornography before Superior Court Judge Benjamin C. Telsey in Salem County. In pleading guilty, Van Culin admitted that he recorded a video of the 16-year-old Canadian girl while she stripped naked on her webcam. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Van Culin be sentenced to 10 years in state prison, including 8 ½ years without parole under the No Early Release Act. He will be required to register as a sex offender under Megan’s Law and will be subject to parole supervision for life. Judge Telsey scheduled sentencing for Van Culin for May 27.

Deputy Attorney General Lilianne M. Daniel prosecuted Van Culin and took the guilty plea for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau.

Van Culin was arrested on Feb. 10, 2014 as part of “Operation Predator Alert,” a joint operation by the Division of Criminal Justice and ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). A total of 28 individuals were arrested in Operation Predator Alert, in two separate sweeps, for allegedly using a file-sharing network to download and distribute child pornography, including child rape videos, on the Internet. The state’s investigation revealed that Van Culin allegedly obtained sexually explicit photos or videos of four girls: three who were 14 to 16 years old at the time of the alleged conduct and one who was 17. He allegedly attempted to blackmail a fifth girl into sending him sexually explicit photos, but she did not comply. In pleading guilty, Van Culin admitted only his conduct involving the Canadian girl.

“Van Culin is a ruthless predator who stalked vulnerable underage girls on the Internet, exploiting their insecurities so that he could sexually exploit them and use them to create child pornography,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “He’s the type of online predator that every parent fears. Fortunately, we’ve ensured that he’ll spend many years in prison, where he cannot pose a threat to children.”

“Van Culin epitomized the dark and dangerous side of social media in the way that he preyed on young girls, tricking them through the anonymity of the Internet and hacking into their accounts to steal personal information,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We’ll continue to work closely with our federal and state partners, using our expertise in investigating cybercrime to catch these offenders and put them behind bars.”

“The use of social media, apps and other platforms as grooming tools by child sexual predators represents a growing threat,” said Special Agent in Charge Terence S. Opiola of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Newark. “This threat is one that, with the cooperation of our law enforcement partners in New Jersey, Homeland Security Investigations is meeting head on. HSI is fully committed to protecting the most vulnerable among our society.”

At the time of Van Culin’s arrest, he was charged in connection with the Canadian victim, who was 16 years old at the time of the alleged criminal conduct. Van Culin coerced the girl into stripping naked on her webcam while he recorded her remotely with his computer. He previously engaged in online chats with her in which he elicited information about her life that he used to hack into her email account and get other personal information, including email addresses for her family and friends. He had password decoding software on his computer that generates likely passwords for a person from basic information such as the person’s name, date of birth, favorite sports, and names of pets and siblings. Van Culin ultimately blackmailed the girl by threatening to expose personal information about her to her family using the contact information from her email account. Van Culin’s computer contained a video of the visibly shaken girl completely disrobing in front of a mirror under his orders.

Further investigation by HSI, the Division of Criminal Justice and partnering agencies in the various jurisdictions led to the discovery of additional victims and new charges against Van Culin. The other girls he allegedly blackmailed or, in one case, attempted to blackmail, lived in Arizona, Philadelphia, Maryland and Seattle. In each case, Van Culin used similar methods, befriending the teenage girls on popular social media sites or in chat rooms, usually presenting himself as a teenage boy. He allegedly obtained nude photos of the other victims or sensitive personal information about them through those chats or by hacking into their email or social media accounts, which he then used to blackmail them into sending him explicit photos of themselves or engaging in sexually explicit conduct on a webcam. Today’s guilty plea will resolve all charges filed against him in this joint investigation.

Deputy Attorney General Daniel presented the case to the state grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau. The investigation was conducted by Detective Richard DaSilva Jr., Detective Sgt. Thomas Turley and Deputy Attorney General Daniel, under the supervision of Deputy Attorney General Michael A. Monahan, who is Bureau Chief, Deputy Attorney General Veronica Allende, Deputy Bureau Chief, former Deputy Bureau Chief Kenneth Sharpe, Lt. Lisa A. Shea and Deputy Chief of Detectives William Fredrick.

Acting Attorney General Hoffman commended the special agents of the ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Cherry Hill, N.J., and San Jose, Calif., Offices who conducted the investigation. Acting Attorney General Hoffman also acknowledged the valuable assistance of members of the New Jersey State Police; detective constables in Ontario, Canada; special agents of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Tucson, Ariz.; the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Maryland; and the Seattle Police Department.

Acting Attorney General Hoffman and Director Honig urged anyone who suspects improper contact by persons communicating with children on the Internet or possible exploitation or sexual abuse of children to contact the New Jersey Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Tipline at 888-648-6007.


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