Texas Man Sentenced for Sexually Exploiting Indiana Child Through Instagram

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INDIANAPOLIS – A Texas man was sentenced to over 23 years in prison for sexual exploitation of a child by utilizing the social media platform Instagram to deceive and entice an Indiana teenager to send sexually explicit photos and videos of herself to him.

In December 2018, Marcus Pettus, 37, from Texas and posing a 15-year-old boy, began following the minor victim on Instagram. He soon began sending direct messages to the victim, including purported photos of himself, which appeared to be “selfie” photos of a teenage boy. The victim told Pettus she was 14 years old and in 8th grade. Eventually, Pettus enticed the victim to be his “girlfriend.”

Pettus then began directing the victim to send him sexually explicit photos and videos of herself.  Pettus was particular in his demands, instructing the victim how to dress, how to wear her hair, and whether to wear makeup. Pettus also sent the victim images of nude women posed in various positions and directed that the minor send images of herself posed in the same way.

He also enticed the victim to send photos and videos of the victim engaging in sex acts, as well as engaging in acts of self-harm, such as choking and gagging. When the victim protested, Pettus threatened that he would harm himself, and manipulated the victim into sending more sexually explicit material. Pettus was arrested after the minor victim and her parents reported the incident to law enforcement.

“This case represents any parent’s worst nightmare. The lengthy prison sentence should send a message that those who seek to prey on children—particularly those who hide behind the anonymity of the internet—will be caught and held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” said Acting United States Attorney John E. Childress. “Protecting our youth from cyber criminals and sexual predators will always remain a top priority of this office.”

“HSI is dedicated to protecting our most vulnerable population against sexual predators,” said R. Sean Fitzgerald, acting special agent in charge, HSI Chicago. “This sentence sends an important message that we will not allow any crime against children to go unpunished and we will continue to work with our law enforcement and prosecuting partners to hold predators accountable for their actions.”

“The Hamilton County Metro Child Exploitation Task Force is thankful to our federal partners for allowing us to purse those that harm our children, regardless of where they reside,” said Fishers Police Detective Lieutenant David Flynn. “We will continue to work with agencies that help us best protect our children and keep our communities safe. With Mr. Pettus in prison, we have one less predator endangering our youth.”

This case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations, and the Hamilton County Metro Child Exploitation Task Force.

Assistant United States Attorney MaryAnn T. Mindrum who prosecuted the case, said that Pettus will also serve ten years of supervised release following his 281-month prison term and must pay $9,000 in restitution to the minor victim.

In fiscal year 2019, when this case was prosecuted, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Indiana prosecuted the second most cases involving sexual exploitation of a child in the country.

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 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, 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.  For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.justice.gov/psc

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