ABINGDON, Va.- Hunter Royal, a Marion, Virginia man who used Snapchat to contact numerous underage girls and coerce them into sending him sexually explicit photos, was sentenced yesterday in U.S. District Court in Abingdon to 324 months in federal prison, Acting United States Attorney Daniel P. Bubar and Special Agent in Charge Raymond Villanueva for HSI’s Washington, D.C. field office announced.
Royal, 23, previously pleaded guilty to one count of persuading, inducing, enticing, and coercing minors to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing visual depictions of such conduct.
“Royal exploited these minor victims, meeting them online, and is a parent’s worst nightmare. This lengthy sentence ought to send a clear message to would-be online predators: your behavior will not be tolerated, and you will be brought to justice,” Acting U.S. Attorney Bubar said. “These cases are some of the most important that we do, and I am grateful for the hard work of Homeland Security and our other federal and local law enforcement partners, who will continue to work tirelessly to vindicate the interests of vulnerable victims and protect them from harm.”
“This individual preyed upon minors, using fear and shame to extort exploitative material. The sentence handed down today reflects the seriousness of this crime,” said Special Agent in Charge Raymond Villanueva for HSI’s Washington, D.C. field office. “HSI is committed to investigating and seeking prosecution for those who seek to exploit children online.”
Royal admitted to using several different Snapchat accounts to contact minor females. His general pattern was to pretend to be a young female on Snapchat and initiate contact with other, actual young females. Royal would then exchange messages with his victims to gain their trust, sometimes by sending the victim photos of a young girl he was claiming to be. Royal would steer the conversation toward sexual issues and convince his victim to take and send sexually explicit photos of herself. He would then use blackmail threats or other coercive tactics to obtain more sexually explicit images from his victim. While carrying out this scheme, Royal also distributed some of the images.
Some of the victims Royal targeted were as young as 12-years-old.
After he was first arrested and jailed, Royal asked a family member to buy a “burner” phone, log in to his Snapchat accounts using public wi-fi, and delete the contents of his Snapchat accounts. Ultimately, however, Royal’s attempt to obstruct justice failed.
The investigation of the case was conducted by Homeland Security Investigations, with assistance from the U.S. Marshals Service, the Marion Police Department, and the Port St. Lucie Police Department. Assistant United States Attorney Whit Pierce prosecuted the case for the United States.