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Police arrest BYU student in sexual extortion case of teen girl

The Utah County Jail in Spanish Fork is pictured on Monday, March 22, 2021.
The Utah County Jail in Spanish Fork is pictured on Monday, March 22, 2021. A 20-year-old student was booked into the Utah County Jail Wednesday and accused of sexually exploiting a 16-year-old Lehi girl.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

A BYU student has been arrested and accused of offering a 16-year-old girl money for explicit photos and videos and then threatening to expose her unless she sent more.

Benjamin Christopher Shields, 20, of Gaithersburg, Maryland, was located on the Brigham Young University campus by police on Wednesday and taken into custody. After being questioned by police, he was booked into the Utah County Jail for investigation of 20 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor and sexual extortion.

The investigation began in May when a 16-year-old Lehi girl told police that a stranger named "Mike H" had friended her on Snapchat a month earlier. After exchanging several messages, Mike H told the girl, "he had developed a medication for treating a rare disease and, as such, he had large amounts of money" and that he would pay her $46,000 for an explicit video chat with her, according to a police booking affidavit.

The girl declined and eventually blocked him from her Snapchat account after he continued to solicit her, according to the affidavit. Later, she received a message on Snapchat from "Brian" who said he was actually Mike H and asked her to unblock him.

"This is the same (person) you were talking to before, but I made a new account and I promise I'll give you the money — I swear I'll give you the money if you do this one thing," he said, referring to the video chat, according to the affidavit.

The girl eventually agreed to send explicit photographs for less money, but asked the man if he would send $50 to $100 first to prove he would actually do it, the affidavit states. But the man gave her another excuse, and the girl agreed to send photos anyway "with the promise to receive money in return to her Venmo account."

After sending several photos, the girl told police she felt guilty and deleted the chat thread and asked the man to just send her the money.

"The victim stated 'Mike H' refused to send any money and then became more pushy and stated he wanted the video chat to occur before he sent her any money. The female victim refused and 'Mike H' then threatened to post/sell her nude photographs online for refusing his request at a video chat," according to the affidavit. "The female victim stated she felt helpless and fearful her images would be posted online and she suffered severe emotional distress."

The girl told Mike H she would do the video chat, but said she only said that to buy herself some time so she could go to police.

In June, after serving a search warrant on the IP address for Mike H's Snapchat account, police said they were directed to a subscriber in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Then on Sept. 21, police in Maryland called Lehi police back and told them they believed the likely suspect was attending BYU.

On Wednesday, Lehi police located Shields and took him to their department for questioning. Once he was told what kind of case was being investigated, Shields invoked his right to remain silent and refused to allow police to look at his phone, the affidavit states. Police then obtained a search warrant for the phone.

"Upon serving the search warrant, detectives located hundreds of nude photographs of females on the phone, including approximately 230 photographs of the juvenile victim in this case," the affidavit states.