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August 2, 2022Springfield, MO, United StatesChild Exploitation

Missouri high school teacher sentenced to 30 years for sextortion scheme following HSI, law enforcement partner investigation

Branson man blackmailed dozens of victims to send pornographic photos, videos

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A southern Missouri high school teacher was sentenced in federal court Aug. 2 for a sextortion scheme in which 11 identified child victims, and dozens more who have not been identified, were coerced to send him pornographic images and videos following a U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and local law enforcement investigation. Brandon Lane McCullough, 31, of Branson, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge M. Douglas Harpool to 30 years in federal prison without parole. The court also sentenced McCullough to spend the rest of his life on supervised release following incarceration, and to pay $204,199 in restitution to one of his victims.

“Today’s sentencing is reflective of just how despicable and damaging McCullough’s crimes against children are and emphasizes HSI’s dedication to hold perpetrators accountable,” said Katherine Greer, HSI special agent in charge of the Kansas City area of operations. “We, alongside our law enforcement partners, are committed to the eradication of sextortion from our communities, but we need the public’s help. HSI asks parents, guardians, teachers, caregivers – anyone who interacts with a child – to be on the lookout for, and report, suspicious online behavior to the proper authorities, regardless of whether the individual is in a position of public trust, like McCullough.”

McCullough was a business teacher at Cassville High School in the Cassville R-4 School District at the time of the offense.

“This defendant, a high school teacher, pretended to be a teenager online in order to prey upon young victims across the country,” said U.S. Attorney Teresa Moore. “He victimized 11 children who have been identified, and many more who have not yet been identified, in a horrific sexploitation scheme. He enticed countless child victims to send him explicit images of themselves, then threatened to share those images with their families and friends over social media unless they continued to send him even more explicit images and videos. Such appalling criminal behavior warrants the severe penalty he received today.”

On Aug. 4, 2021, McCullough pleaded guilty to three counts of the sexual exploitation of a minor and two counts of coercing and enticing a minor to engage in illicit sexual activity.

The federal investigation began on Feb. 14, 2020, when a police detective in New Jersey contacted federal agents in Missouri. The mother of a 14-year-old victim had reported to the local police department that her daughter was using the Kik application to have sexually explicit conversations, and to send sexually explicit images, to McCullough.

McCullough portrayed himself as a 15-year-old boy when he began chatting via Kik with Jane Doe 1 in May 2019. McCullough threatened to send the sexually explicit images and videos to the Jane Doe 1’s family and friends unless she sent him additional images and videos. Jane Doe also engaged in a Kik conversation with another user, who was actually McCullough portraying himself as a 17-year-old boy. When Jane Doe told this false persona that she was being blackmailed, he told her to continue meeting his demands.

On May 7, 2020, law enforcement officers executed a search warrant at McCullough’s residence. They seized an external hard drive that was concealed beneath a basket under a bathroom sink in the basement. The hard drive contained dozens of Kik folders, which contained chats as well as thousands of images and videos of child pornography that were self-produced by the child victims, some of whom were younger than Jane Doe 1.

Based upon a forensic examination of the computer hard drive recovered from McCullough’s residence, investigators were able to identify 10 additional child victims of McCullough’s sextortion scheme. Dozens more child victims could not be identified. McCullough followed a similar pattern with each victim, extorting the victims to produce sexually explicit images and videos with the promise he would delete all the images once the new ones were sent. When the victims sent the videos and/or images, McCullough would start the cycle again. This activity began at least as early as Nov. 1, 2018.

This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ami Harshad Miller. It was investigated by HSI, the Southwest Missouri Cyber Crimes Task Force, and the Florham Park Borough, New Jersey, Police Department.

Learn more about HSI’s mission to combat child exploitation in your community on Twitter, @HSIKansasCity.

Project Safe Childhood

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the United States Attorneys' Offices and the 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.

Homeland Security Investigations

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 6,800 special agents assigned to 225 cities throughout the United States, and 86 overseas locations in 55 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.

Updated: 08/24/2022