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Brentwood man gets 20 years in prison for 'sextortion' case

| Monday, Oct. 1, 2012, 1:54 p.m.

A Brentwood man who anonymously extorted nude photos from a woman and used her identity to extort nude photos from several high school girls kept victimizing the woman even after she confided in him that she was considering suicide to escape what was happening, a federal judge said on Monday.

“You advised her to comply with the person's demands — your demands,” U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry said to Russell Freed, 44, during a hearing.

McVerry sentenced Freed to 20 years in prison and probation for life. He ordered him to register as a sex offender and to avoid contact with minor children.

Freed, a former Pennsylvania Turnpike engineer, pleaded guilty in March to seven child pornography charges.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Haller said Freed's scheme started when he found pictures on the cell phone of the woman, who was about 21 at the time and had several friends still in high school. Freed pretended to be the woman and sent her friends those pictures to entice them into sending similar pictures, Haller said.

Once victims sent him a picture, he would threaten to send it to their families and classmates unless they sent more, Haller said. Freed eventually used a Facebook account and a Yahoo account in the woman's name and a second Yahoo account to entice and extort victims, Haller said.

Freed told the judge that he didn't understand at the time why he committed the crimes and thought he might be evil. He said he learned through subsequent counseling that he had psychological problems caused by self-image issues.

He apologized to the victims and their families.

“I understand what I put them through. I'm ashamed, and I'm sorry,” he said.

Some victims and their families attended the sentencing but didn't speak during the hearing or afterward.

Attorney Ronald Hayward argued that Freed deserved leniency because of his mental problems and because he did not collect thousands of images of child pornography. Other than the pictures he extorted, Freed had no pictures of children, he said.

“This is an extortion case, your honor, where Mr. Freed tried to get more pictures from his victims,” he said.

Haller said the extortion element of Freed's crimes warranted a more severe sentence. There were easier ways for him to obtain nude pictures of young girls, but Freed enjoyed controlling other people and extorting the photos.

“That element of sadism can't be overlooked in this case,” he said.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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