TRENTON, N.J. — A New Jersey man was sentenced to prison Monday on a charge of manufacturing child pornography for blackmailing a 16-year-old Canadian girl into stripping naked on a webcam while he recorded her from his home in Salem County, New Jersey.
The guilty plea resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Maryland; and the Seattle Police Department.
Michael Van Culin, 32, of Monroeville, New Jersey, was sentenced to 10 years in state prison, including 8 ½ years of parole ineligibility by Superior Court Judge Benjamin C. Telsey in Salem County. He pleaded guilty on Feb. 29 to a first-degree charge of manufacturing child pornography. In pleading guilty, Van Culin admitted that he recorded a video of the 16-year-old Canadian girl while she stripped naked on her webcam. He will be required to register as a sex offender under Megan’s Law and will be subject to parole supervision for life.
Van Culin was arrested on Feb. 10, 2014 as part of “Operation Predator Alert,” a joint operation by HSI and the N.J. Division of Criminal Justice. A total of 28 individuals were arrested in Operation Predator Alert, in two separate sweeps, for allegedly using a file-sharing network to download and distribute child pornography, including child rape videos, on the Internet. The investigation revealed that Van Culin allegedly obtained sexually explicit photos or videos of four girls: three who were 14 to 16 years old at the time of the alleged conduct and one who was 17. He attempted to blackmail a fifth girl into sending him sexually explicit photos, but she did not comply. In pleading guilty, Van Culin admitted only his conduct involving the Canadian girl.
“The use of social media, apps and other platforms as grooming tools by child sexual predators represents a growing threat,” said Special Agent in Charge Terence S. Opiola of HSI Newark. “This threat is one that, with the cooperation of our law enforcement partners in New Jersey, Homeland Security Investigations is meeting head on. HSI is fully committed to protecting the most vulnerable in our society.”
“Van Culin manipulated and hacked his way into the lives of young girls on the Internet, blackmailing his vulnerable victims and taking their innocence as ransom,” said Attorney General Porrino. “We have put this sexual predator behind bars for many years so that he can’t harm other children.”
“We urge parents to warn their children about this dark side of social media, and if they suspect a predator is stalking their child, to contact us immediately,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We’ll continue to work collaboratively with our federal and state law enforcement partners, using our expertise in investigating cybercrime to catch offenders like Van Culin.”
This investigation was conducted under HSI’s Operation Predator, an international initiative to protect children from sexual predators. Since the launch of Operation Predator in 2003, HSI has arrested more than 14,000 individuals for crimes against children, including the production and distribution of online child pornography, traveling overseas for sex with minors, and sex trafficking of children. In fiscal year 2015, nearly 2,400 individuals were arrested by HSI special agents under this initiative and more than 1,000 victims identified or rescued.
HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators. From outside the U.S. and Canada, callers should dial 802-872-6199. Hearing impaired users can call TTY 802-872-6196.
Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST.