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Child Exploitation

Maryland man sentenced to 12 years in prison for producing child pornography

GREENBELT, Md. – A Maryland man was sentenced Wednesday in a local example of what child exploitation investigators are calling a disturbing and growing trend known as "sextortion."

Joshua P. Blakenship, 25, was sentenced to 12 years in prison, followed by a lifetime of supervised release, for child pornography production, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Calvert County Sheriff's Office and the Rapid City, S.D., Police Department. Blakenship must also register as a sex offender under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act.

"Individuals that sexually exploit children think they can hide behind their computers and not be discovered by law enforcement," said Special Agent in Charge of HSI Baltimore William Winter. "Think again. HSI special agents along with our domestic and international law enforcement partners have joined forces to aggressively investigate and apprehend these predators and ensure that they are prosecuted to the full extent of the law."

"Joshua Blakenship is typical of the predators children routinely encounter on the Internet," said U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein.

According to his plea agreement, Blakenship friended a teenage girl on Facebook in January 2011. They exchanged text messages and by March 2011, Blankenship asked the girl for a nude photo of herself. The girl sent Blakenship a nude photo she took on her cell phone.

On July 4, 2011, Blankenship sent a text message to the girl demanding 10 nude pictures and said that if she did not produce and send the photos, she would go to jail because she had sent an illegal image on her cell phone. Between July 5 and 7, 2011, Blakenship sent numerous texts describing the images he wanted her to produce and threatening to call the police if she refused. The victim produced several dozen pictures and sent them to Blakenship.

Blakenship was identified and his residence searched on Aug. 5, 2011. Blakenship admitted to forcing individuals to send him pictures and to creating a fake profile on the Internet to gain access to pictures and videos of girls.

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the United States Attorneys' Offices and the DOJ Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals, who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood and information about Internet safety education, please visit www.usdoj.gov/psc.

This investigation was part of Operation Predator, a nationwide HSI initiative to protect children from sexual predators, including those who travel overseas for sex with minors, Internet child pornographers, criminal alien sex offenders and child sex traffickers. HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-347-2423 or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators.

Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-843-5678.

HSI is a founding member and current chair of the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies and private industry sector partners working together to prevent and deter online child sexual abuse.

The case was prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney LisaMarie Freitas of DOJ's Criminal Division, Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristi N. O'Malley.