EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. – Michael A. Ferris, 44, of Mill Shoals, Illinois, was found guilty by a federal jury on Friday, Nov. 18, 2022, of 25 felony charges of extortion, cyberstalking, and the production, distribution, and possession of child pornography involving nine minors.

According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, Ferris targeted teenage girls on Facebook and used extortion, also called “sextortion,” from at least March 2020 until November 2020. His victims ranged in age from 11 to 17, and they came from all across the country to confront him at trial.

As part of his scam, Ferris made fake Facebook accounts that looked like they were run by teenage girls. He also joined Facebook communities for minors and sexual abuse victims. Ferris sent unwanted messages to teenage girls by pretending to be a teen looking for a new friend.

If the teens answered, Ferris, tried to get them to give him a picture of themselves without clothes on or answer very personal questions. Ferris then used this information to get the girls to send him more sexually explicit pictures, ask more questions, or perform on a video chat.

Ferris followed and scared his victims until they gave in or begged him to stop. If they didn’t, he threatened to send their pictures or answers to personal questions to their friends, parents, the police, or child protective services.

Even when his victims agreed, Ferris would often send sexually explicit pictures of them to friends and family.

“Ferris preyed upon some of the most vulnerable people in the community, children, by using shame and fear to gain power over them,” said United States Attorney Rachelle Crowe. “Fortunately, those Minor victims and their families came from across the country to testify and hold Ferris accountable for his disturbing demands. Discussions with children about their social media use and who they can talk to about problems online help combat predators like Michael Ferris.”

“I commend those that bravely came forward to testify to help get Ferris off our streets and away from other children he might harm,” said HSI Chicago Special Agent in Charge R. Sean Fitzgerald. “HSI and our law enforcement partners will continue to work within our communities to aid and assist the victims of these crimes and bring the predators to justice.”

The investigation was carried out by agents from Homeland Security Investigations—Springfield, with support from the domestic and international offices of Homeland Security Investigations, as well as Jackson County.

The Oregon Sheriff’s Office, the Jefferson County, Illinois, Sheriff’s Office, the Illinois State Police, and the Aurora, Missouri, Police Department are all involved.

The US Attorneys’ Offices from the Southern District of Illinois, the Eastern District of Missouri, and Homeland Security Investigations helped the victims and witnesses.