Investigators suspect hundreds of victims in Bethlehem 'sextortion' case

 

Authorities believe a Bethlehem man accused of extorting a pair of teenage girls with naked photos may have victimized hundreds of other teenagers and even threatened one of the victims as she was being interviewed by authorities on Friday.

Bethlehem police have charged Charles J. Cummings, of Woodstock Drive, with child pornography and extortion after investigators allegedly found thousands of photos of naked, partially naked or scantily-clad teens after receiving a tip from FBI investigators in Michigan. Authorities allege the 19-year-old extorted 62 nude videos, 127 nude photos and $730 from one victim after threatening to send the pictures and videos to her grandmother.

Bethlehem Police Chief Mark DiLuzio said the investigation continues as it's believed Cummings has 300 young female victims across the country. The Bethlehem Police Department is working with the FBI to figure out how to put the case under one court and if state or federal charges need to be filed, he said.

DiLuzio said Cummings continued communicating with victims despite his devices being taken away after authorities served a search warrant several weeks ago. Cummings purchased new devices such as cell phones, computers and tablets.

Diluzio says "It is disturbing because we all have daughters and this guy is a beast. He deserves a special place in hell."

Local authorities began their investigation in July after learning from an FBI special agent in Detroit that an investigation into a "sextortion" case involving a 14-year-old led them to Bethlehem.

In December 2018, the Kent County Sheriff's Office reported that a Snapchat user contacted a 14-year-old girl in Michigan and convinced her to send him nude photos of herself, according to court records. The victim said he threatened to send the photos to friends and family, if she didn't send him more nude photos, according to records. When she refused, investigators alleged he sent several of the nude photos to her classmates.

Fearing he would further expose her, the girl sent more photos and videos.

Investigators obtained search warrants for the Snapchat account and a Google account, which revealed "a large amount of pornographic material" stored in the Google account and Snapchat screenshots, demanding sexual photos and videos, according to authorities.

The searches led investigators to a YouTube account and an RCN subscriber on Woodstock Drive in Bethlehem.

On Aug. 23, authorities searched the home Cummings shares with his mother and seized electronic devices, including his cell phone. During an interview with investigators, Cummings allegedly admitted that he was the Snapchat user, who contacted the 14-year-old Michigan girl. He also allegedly admitted to soliciting naked photos of girls online.

Police said Cummings was released pending an investigation.

A search of his cell phone allegedly turned up thousands of photos of females, who appear to be in their late teens. Investigators said they also found hundreds of screenshots of Snapchat conversations in which Cummings allegedly threatened to expose anyone who sent him naked photos. Authorities said they found at least three photos of the 14-year-old.

On Friday, a detective interviewed the 17-year-old victim, who reported being contacted by Cummings on Snapchat in November 2018. She reported sending him a naked photo only to be threatened several times a month over the next eight months.

Cummings demanded more photos and videos and in July allegedly began demanding money in exchange for not sending out the pictures and videos. She sent another 62 videos, 127 photos and $730.

While a detective was interviewing the teen, Cummings allegedly sent her a message threatening to send nude pictures to her grandmother, if he didn't receive new photos. He then forwarded the girl her grandmother's information, according to police.

Cummings was detained at his home, and investigators seized an Amazon tablet. Police said "charging (Cummings) with crimes against (victims one and two) at the current time is the only way to stop him from continuing this criminal conduct," according to records.

Authorities charged Cummings with three counts of extortion and single counts of terroristic threats, child pornography, criminal use of a communication device, disseminating images of child sex acts and photographing, filming or depicting a child sex act on a computer.

District Judge Nicholas Englesson arraigned Cummings Friday afternoon, setting bail at $500,000. He failed to post bail and was sent to Northampton County Prison to await a preliminary hearing scheduled for Sept. 13.

"I could call him (Charles) and ask him about his upbringing. Other than that, I'm disappointed and I have nothing else to say," Cummings's mother told 69 News.