CA Man Arrested in 'Sextortion' Case That Led to Teen's Suicide: Cops
The arrest comes as federal officials warn of a massive increase in teenagers, primarily boys, being tricked into sending sexually explicit photos and then being blackmailed to stop them from being published online.
A California man has been arrested in connection with an alleged "sextortion" case that led to the suicide of high school senior, police said.
Jonathan Kassi, 25, was arrested last week in Los Angeles and appeared Monday in a San Jose courtroom, charged with two felony charges of extortion and one misdemeanor count of attempted disorderly conduct by posting a photograph or recording without consent, according to court records.
Pauline Stuart, the mother of 17-year-old Ryan Last, appeared at the hearing and told the judge, “I lost my son this year due to a sextortion scam," the San Jose Mercury News reported. "I don’t believe (Kassi) should get bail because he is a danger to children," she said. "I don’t believe there is any way to restrict his access to the internet. Releasing him on bail will allow him to continue to hurt children."
Judge Shelyna Brown set his bail at $250,000 and ordered him to surrender his passport. He remained in custody at the Santa Clara County Jail on Tuesday, according to online records.
Last died by suicide at his San Jose home in February, police said. San Jose Police Department Internet Crimes Against Children task force began looking into his death and determined the teen had been corresponding online with someone he believed to be a girl, and that the two had exchanged sexual photographs, authorities said.
Last was told he had to pay $5,000 or the photos would be published online, police said. The amount was later reduced to $150, but the demands didn't stop, authorities said.
Kassi was identified as a suspect in the case, which involved a blackmail ring based in the West African country of Ivory Coast, authorities said.
Police alleged Monday that Kassi “sexually exploited children online utilizing the usernames ’emillysmith’ and ‘kassijonathan’ on various social media application," the paper reported.
Kassi's public defender, Cassandra Kinchen, declined comment in an email to Inside Edition Digital on Tuesday.
The suspect has not entered a plea.
The case comes as federal authorities warned this week of a dramatic jump in the number of sextortion scams, many involving teenage boys. The perpetrators target teens online, and then trick them into sending sexually explicit photos, authorities said.
The teens are then told they must send money to prevent the images from becoming public.
The victims are mostly between the ages of 14 and 17, but children as young as 10 have been targeted, authorities said.
The FBI issued a national public safety alert this week, saying youngsters will be spending more time online because of the winter holiday break.
Authorities cited "desperate" accounts from young victims and said the number of incidents had increased 1,000% in the first six months of 2022 compared to the same period last year.
"Victims may feel like there is no way out," said FBI Director Christopher Wray. "It is up to all of us to reassure them that they are not in trouble, there is hope, and they are not alone.”
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