Feb 22, 2023
A man implicated in a sextortion scam that led to the suicide death of a San Jose teenager in February has been arrested, according to an NBC Bay Area report.
Jonathan Kassi, 25, of Reseda, California, was apprehended by Los Angeles Police Department officials Thursday in Van Nuys. He was then transferred into the custody of San Jose Police Department detectives Monday and later arraigned in a city courtroom that afternoon. The charges against Kassi include two felony counts of extortion and one misdemeanor count of attempted disorderly conduct by posting a photograph or recording without consent, the Mercury News confirmed.
Judge Shelyna Brown set Kassi’s bail at $250,000 and ordered him to surrender his passport. Additionally, Judge Brown cited the alleged extortion crimes in requiring that Kassi “prove that any bail money he posts comes from a legitimate source,” according to the Mercury News.
“Kassi’s arrest is in connection with the suicide death of 17-year-old San Jose resident Ryan Last, who became the victim of sextortion after Kassi, posing as a teen girl, allegedly persuaded Ryan to post a racy photo online,” NBC said through police officials.
After the victim sent the photograph, Kassi and a co-conspirator reportedly threatened to distribute the compromising image to his friends and family, demanding that he pay them $5,000.
According to NBC, the ongoing police investigation indicates that once Last sent the suspected extortionists some money, they demanded more. That’s when the teenager took his own life, NBC reported.
“Ryan was just days away from his 18th birthday and weeks from graduating from Ann Sobrato High School at the time of his death,” NBC said.
At the arraignment, Pauline Stuart, the mother of 17-year-old Ryan Last, told the judge:
“I lost my son this year due to a sextortion scam. … I don’t believe (Kassi) should get bail because he is a danger to children. … I don’t believe there is any way to restrict his access to the internet. Releasing him on bail will allow him to continue to hurt children.”
Brown sympathized with Stuart, according to the Mercury News, but said the case was not eligible for no-bail detention because of Kassi’s indirect connection (he is not believed to be the person who directly extorted Last). Judge Brown, however, increased Kassi’s bail amount five-fold from a baseline of $50,000, the Mercury News confirmed.
“I believe this is a threat to public safety,” Brown said. “This court believes that high bail is warranted.”
Ryan Last died on February 26, 2022 at his San Jose home. The day of his death, the San Jose Police Department’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force began investigating the circumstances of the incident.
“That investigation led to the determination that the previous night, the teen had been corresponding online with someone he believed to be a girl,” the Mercury News reported.
The San Jose Police Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force said Kassi is connected to a larger “West African financial sextortion scheme,” NBC reported.
According to police, Kassi has sexually exploited children online on various social media applications utilizing the usernames:
“It’s all about money for them, and not about the people they’re affecting,” Last’s mother said, according to NBC.
Following his February death, Last’s mother has reportedly began working to warn other families about the dangers of online sextortion scams targeting teenagers.
“She’s been working with police from day one, determined to get the message out to parents and teens about the dangers of posting photos and personal information online and especially about the criminal element lurking on many social media platforms,” NBC said.
“We honestly never thought that something like this could target us, could reach our family but it just shows how easy it is,” Stuart told NBC.
Through its ongoing investigation, The San Jose Police Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force believes there could be additional area sextortion victims who have yet to be identified. Police said “Kassi’s criminal pattern and use of social media to target minors” indicates that more teenagers may have been victimized.
“Any time you do anything online, there’s a trail,” Christian Camarillo of the San Jose P.D. said to NBC. “Our detectives are very good at what they do. That trail led us to this person who we located in Los Angeles and today he’s getting arraigned in our courts.”
The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office also indicated a firm commitment to holding sextortion suspects accountable to the fullest extent of the law.
“Anytime someone extorts a minor, especially when it comes to sensitive photos that may be sexual in nature, it’s a very serious time,” Marina Mankaryous, Santa Clara Deputy D.A., told NBC. “At the DA’s office we’re committed to holding anyone involved accountable.”
Ryan Last’s mother told NBC she’s happy someone will be brought to justice.
“It’s amazing to know they worked really hard and were able to get somebody,” Pauline Stuart said. “There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done in educating families and kids.”
Police are urging anyone impacted by a sextortion scam or with information about a related crime to immediately contact them. Specifically, anyone with information about the case involving Jonathan Kassi should contact Sergeant Sean Pierce of the San Jose Police Department’s ICAC Unit via:
Additionally, anonymous tips may submitted using the P3TIPS mobile app, calling the tip line at 408-947-STOP, or by logging on to www.svcrimestoppers.org.
On Monday, the FBI issued a nationwide alert warning of the “explosion” of sextortion scams targeting teens and kids, an Axios report confirmed.
According to the FBI alert, over 3,000 minor victims were targeted by sextortion scams in the past year across the U.S.
“Over the past year, law enforcement has received over 7,000 reports related to the online financial sextortion of minors, resulting in at least 3,000 victims, primarily boys, and more than a dozen suicides. A large percentage of these sextortion schemes originate outside of the United States and primarily in West African countries such as Nigeria and Ivory Coast. As many children enter winter break this holiday season, the FBI and our partners implore parents and caregivers to engage with their kids about financial sextortion schemes so we can prevent them in the first place,” the FBI said in a public statement.
“The FBI has seen a horrific increase in reports of financial sextortion schemes targeting minor boys-and the fact is that the many victims who are afraid to come forward are not even included in those numbers,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said. “The FBI is here for victims, but we also need parents and caregivers to work with us to prevent this crime before it happens and help children come forward if it does. Victims may feel like there is no way out – it is up to all of us to reassure them that they are not in trouble, there is hope, and they are not alone.”
“The protection of children is a society’s most sacred duty,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division added. “It calls on each of us to do everything we can to keep kids from harm, including ensuring the threats they face are brought into the light and confronted. Armed with the information in this alert message, parents, caregivers, and children themselves should feel empowered to detect fake identities, take steps to reject any attempt to obtain private material, and, if targeted, have a plan to seek help from a trusted adult.”
The FBI said financial sextortion schemes tend to occur in online environments where young people feel most comfortable, such as:
“On these platforms, online predators often use fake female accounts and target minor males between 14 to 17 years old, but the FBI has interviewed victims as young as 10 years old,” the bureau’s official statement indicated.
The FBI outlined specific procedures for parents to take if they believe their child may be the victim of a sextortion scheme. The following steps have been curated by The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC):
The FBI also notes that if a young person is being exploited, he or she is the victim of a crime and should report it immediately. Contact your local FBI field office, call 1-800-CALL-FBI, or report it online at tips.fbi.gov.
The FBI’s December alert comes just months after releasing a similar warning of an increase in online sextortion scams aimed largely at teenagers.
“The FBI is receiving an increasing number of reports of adults posing as young girls coercing young boys through social media to produce sexual images and videos and then extorting money from them,” a press release from the bureau’s San Francisco Field Office stated earlier this year.
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