GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – A Grand Rapids man pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiring to sexually exploit dozens of young girls, officials said.
James Thomas Gersky, 33, pleaded guilty to two child exploitation offenses, including conspiracy to produce child pornography and conspiracy to receive and distribute child pornography, officials said.
Gersky's plea came two weeks before he was scheduled to go on trial in Charleston, South Carolina. Six other co-defendants had already pleaded guilty, officials said.
Gersky and his co-conspirators used a website specifically designed to help the group target and sexually exploit underage girls between July 2014 and April 2015, according to court documents.
The website was password-protected and only vetted individuals could become members, officials said. The members of the website worked together to identify social media profiles of girls, including girls younger than 13 years old, and strategized how to convince the girls to engage in sexually explicit activity via live web camera, court documents said.
Gersky is accused of streaming pre-recorded videos of other underage girls to their targets to trick them into believing they were watching a live video of someone their own age.
They would then pressure the teens to engage in sexually explicit activity, officials said.
The victims were not aware that they were actually communicating with adult men who were recording the sexually explicit activity, according to court documents.
After recording a victim’s sexually explicit activity, Gersky and his group would share the videos with each other by uploading the file to a file-storage site and placing a link to download the file on a section of their website, authorities said.
Officials identified 87 victims from 28 states and Canada.
Five of the co-conspirators each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to produce child pornography and one count of conspiracy to receive and distribute child pornography.
- On Aug. 8, Jonathan Cripe, 28, of Imperial, Missouri, pleaded guilty.
- On Sept. 28, Sean Ellis, 43, of Kennesaw, Georgia, and Steven Fox, 39, of Elkridge, Maryland, each pleaded guilty.
- On Oct. 12, Michael Augustin, 44, of Fort Collins, Colorado, pleaded guilty.
- On Oct. 20, Dejan Becovic, 24, of West Vallen City, Utah, pleaded guilty.
Becovic also previously pleaded guilty in Utah to receipt of child pornography, and on Oct. 18, he was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for the Utah conviction.
On Sept. 29, Brandon Gressette, 33, of Summerville, South Carolina, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to produce child pornography, as well as two substantive counts of production of child pornography.
Another co-conspirator, Jonathan Soto, 27, of Branchburg, New Jersey, was prosecuted in the District of New Jersey and also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to produce child pornography.
On March 31, Soto was sentenced to 18 years in federal prison for his role in the scheme, officials said.
The FBI is continuing to investigate the case.