Lehi police: BYU student charged with 20 felony counts in child exploitation case

Lehi Police vehicle. File photo: Gephardt Daily/Monico Garza/SLCScanner

UTAH COUNTY, Oct. 26, 2021 (Gephardt Daily) — A 20-year-old Brigham Young University student has been charged with 20 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor after police say he offered a 16-year-old girl a large amount of money to send him nude photographs.

The suspect then allegedly declined to pay, and threatened to share the images and video with the child’s family member if she didn’t do a sexual video chat with him, according to charging documents.

Suspect Benjamin Christopher Shields is facing the 20 exploitation charges, each a second-degree felony, due to the child pornography photos and videos. He also faces one charge of sexual extortion-coerce to distribute intimate images, a third-degree felony.

Shields’ probable cause statement, filed by an officer of the Lehi City Police Department, says the department was notified on May 11 of this year by the Division of Child and Family Services of the alleged crimes.

The statement says that the 16-year-old girl had been solicited through Snapchat to send nude photos and videos in exchange for large (undisclosed) amount of money. The girl agreed, but the suspect… did not pay. The victim said she had told the suspect her age.

The suspect then offered to pay the child $46,000 in exchange for a sexually oriented video chat, the statement says.

“The female victim stated she declined the offer and stated she didn’t feel comfortable doing that with a stranger,” the probable cause statement says. The girl also blocked him to prevent him from contacting her, she told the officer.

“A short time later, the female victim received a new message from the username ‘Brian’ that stated he was the same individual who had contacted her before (Mike H) and asked her to unblock his username so he could talk to her through that account. The female victim stated the suspect told her ‘this is the same you were talking to before, but I made a new account and I promise I’ll give you the money — I swear I’ll give you the money if you do this one thing.”

The victim declined, but did offer to send nude photos for $50 to $100 “to just verify he was good for his money, but the suspect stated his money was worth more than her body. The victim then agreed to send photographs with the promise to receive money in return to her Venmo account…”

“The victim stated she felt guilty and disgusted with herself after sending the photographs, so she deleted them from the chat and started to ask ‘Mike H’ to send her the money he owed her. The victim stated ‘Mike H’ refused to send any money and then became more pushy and stated he wanted the video chat to occur before he sent her any money.”

When the girl refused the video chat, the suspect “threatened to post/sell her nude photographs online for refusing his request at a video chat. The suspect even stated he was going to send photos of the victim to her older brother. The female victim stated she felt helpless and fearful her images would be posted online and she suffered severe emotional distress.”

The girl then agreed to the video chat in order to stall so she could tell her mother and get police involved, the probable cause statement says.

On May 19, a consent search of the victim’s phone was conducted, and a subsequent search warrant was approved to get SnapChat to release information on the account belonging to “Mike H.” Information obtained through SnapChat and Verizon led officers to a residence out of Gaithersburg, Maryland, and learned a member of that household attends BYU in Provo. Shields was identified as the suspect.

Shields was questioned on Sept. 29, and, post Miranda, declined to talk with police or allow them to examine his phone.

A search warrant was issued for the phone, and the police search turned up “hundreds of nude photographs of females on the phone, including (approx.) 230 photographs of the juvenile victim in this case — most of which were of the victim in a nude or seminude state of dress.”

Shields was booked into jail and his bail was set at $10,000.


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