NJ youth pastor was online predator who blackmailed boys, cops say
HAINESPORT — A religious leader who teaches children has been accused of blackmailing boys across the internet into recording sexual videos of themselves.
Sean Higgins, a 30-year-old Pamlyra resident who serves as the youth pastor and music leader of the Harbor Baptist Church and who works as teacher at the 75-student Harbor Baptist Academy in Hainesport, is charged with 28 criminal counts including first-degree aggravated sexual assault and manufacturing child pornography.
He has not, however, been accused of preying on the children he works with. Burlington County prosecutors said Higgins would pose as a girl named "Julie Miller" in order to trick unsuspecting young boys on Snapchat and Instagram. Victims included 12-to-15-year-old boys in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and South Dakota.
Investigators said Higgins would befriend the boys before suggesting that they trade nude photographs, with Higgins sending the boys a picture of some teen girl.
After the boys would respond with their own nude photos, Higgins would take a screenshot of the boys' friends or followers list and threaten to share the boys' photos unless they shared with him live video of themselves masturbating or engaging in sexual conduct.
Investigators said Higgins would record these videos and use them to further blackmail his victims.
“When a boy would send a nude photo of himself, Higgins would instantly transform and warn the child, ‘I’ve got you,’ and threaten to circulate that photo if the child did not engage in additional sexual acts on camera for Higgins’s sick gratification,” Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said. “The desperation of these young boys who were put in this position by this predator is truly heartbreaking.”
“These charges underscore the importance of the responsibility of parents to monitor their children’s internet activity, and also having those frank and uncomfortable conversations about the dangers of sharing naked photos or other embarrassing images of themselves,” Coffina added. “Cyberspace can be scary, but vigilance and simple common sense are effective defenses against online predators.”
At least two of the victims reported what was going on. A boy in Berks County, Pennsylvania, contacted Snapchat about the blackmail and a boy in Alabama went to law enforcement, Coffina said.
New Jersey 101.5 did not know Friday whether Higgins had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.
He was charged with six counts of first-degree manufacturing child pornography, first-degree aggravated sexual assault, five counts of second-degree distribution of child pornography, second-degree sexual assault, six counts of third-degree possession of child pornography, six counts of third-degree child endangerment and fourth-degree criminal sexual contact.
He was also charged with fourth-degree obstruction and contempt after police said he refused to open his door on Thursday.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-775-9793 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.