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Marion man sentenced to 27 years in prison for using Snapchat to coerce young girls

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Published: Mar. 31, 2021 at 9:56 AM EDT
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ABINGDON, Va. (WDBJ) - A Marion man has been sentenced to 324 months in federal prison after using Snapchat to contact underage girls and coerce them into sending sexually explicit photos.

23-year-old Hunter Royal was sentenced in an Abingdon U.S. District Court Tuesday. He had pleaded guilty to one count of persuading, inducing, enticing and coercing minors to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing visual depictions of such conduct.

“Royal exploited these minor victims, meeting them online, and is a parent’s worst nightmare. This lengthy sentence ought to send a clear message to would-be online predators: your behavior will not be tolerated, and you will be brought to justice,” Acting U.S. Attorney Daniel P. Bubar said. “These cases are some of the most important that we do, and I am grateful for the hard work of Homeland Security and our other federal and local law enforcement partners, who will continue to work tirelessly to vindicate the interests of vulnerable victims and protect them from harm.”

Royal admitted to using multiple accounts with the social media app to contact minors, with some victims as young as 12-years-old. He would pretend to be a young girl on Snapchat and initiate contact with his victims. He would then exchange messages to gain their trust, sometimes by sending photos of a young girl he was claiming to be, according to the Department of Justice. The department said Royal would steer the conversation toward sexual issues and convince the girls to send sexually explicit photos of themselves. Afterward, he would use blackmail threats and other coercive tactics to obtain more images. Royal also distributed some of the photos he received.

When Royal was first arrested, the DOJ said he asked a family member to buy a burner phone, log in to his Snapchat using public Wi-Fi and delete the contents of his accounts. The department said his efforts to obstruct justice failed.

“This individual preyed upon minors, using fear and shame to extort exploitative material. The sentence handed down today reflects the seriousness of this crime,” said Special Agent in Charge Raymond Villanueva for HSI’s Washington, D.C. field office. “HSI is committed to investigating and seeking prosecution for those who seek to exploit children online.”

The investigation was conducted by Homeland Security Investigations, with assistance from the U.S. Marshals Service, the Marion Police Department and the Port St. Lucie Police Department.

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