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April 13, 2021Chicago, IL, United StatesChild Exploitation

Illinois man sentenced to 45 years in prison for "sextorting" minors in 8 states

CHICAGO — An Illinois man was sentenced April 13, to 45 years in prison for producing child pornography involving multiple minors.

The case was prosecuted by U.S. Attorney’s Office Central District of Illinois and investigated by Homeland Security Investigations, the Decatur Police Department and the Illinois Attorney General’s Office Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

Cornell D.A. Johnson, 24, of Chicago was described by Senior U.S. District Judge Michael M. Mihm as a “ringmaster,” who engaged in an “exercise of power,” to prey on victims of a vulnerable age for his pleasure and satisfaction.

According to admissions made in connection with his guilty pleas, entered on Feb. 19, 2020, Johnson controlled multiple female-presenting profiles on Facebook, which he used to contact female Facebook users. He then enticed the minors to send him photographs that progressed from various stages of undress to sexually suggestive and/or sexually explicit photographs of themselves.

Once Johnson obtained compromising images, he 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. Among his demands, Johnson specifically directed the minor teenagers to sexually abuse younger children in their household to produce images.

At the time of his arrest, in February 2019, Johnson was identified in more than 80 Cybertips Facebook reported from across the U.S. and Canada to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force affiliate agencies identified 17 minor victims located in nine judicial districts across eight states. The victims ranged in age from 4 to 17 years old.

Johnson has remained in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service since his arrest. He was ordered to remain on supervised release for life upon completion of his prison sentence.

Vital assistance was provided by the U.S. Attorneys’ offices for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, the Western District of Pennsylvania, the District of Arizona, the Middle District of Pennsylvania and the Western District of Wisconsin. Assistant U.S. Attorney Elly M. Peirson prosecuted the case on behalf of the government.

The case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative by the Department of Justice to combat child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (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.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of DHS and a vital U.S. asset in combatting transnational crime and threats. One of HSI’s top priorities is to protect the public from crimes of victimization, and HSI’s child exploitation investigations program is a central component of this mission set. HSI is recognized as a global leader in this investigative discipline, and is committed to utilizing its vast authorities, international footprint and strong government and non-government partnerships to identify and rescue child victims, identify and apprehend offenders, prevent transnational child sexual abuse and help make the internet a safer place for children.

For more information about HSI’s efforts to protect children from online sexual abuse, visit HSI's iGuardians program.

To report a crime, call 866-347-2423 (TTY for hearing impaired: 802-872-6196) or visit the ICE Tip Line.