United States Attorney Deborah R. Gilg for the District of Nebraska and Barbara L. McQuade for the Eastern District of Michigan announced that Brandon L. Hennerberg, 31, formerly of Fairbury, was sentenced Wednesday to 35 years in federal prison for his participation in a child exploitation enterprise. Hennerberg was sentenced by U.S. Senior District Court Judge Richard G. Kopf in Lincoln. He was originally charged, along with five co-defendants, in the Eastern District of Michigan in a 28-count indictment with the crimes of child exploitation enterprise, numerous counts of conspiracy to produce child pornography, conspiracy to receive and access with intent to view child pornography, and aiding and abetting online enticement. On June 21, 2016, in Lincoln, Nebraska, Hennerberg pleaded guilty to one count of child exploitation enterprise, carrying a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence.
The investigation determined that from at least January of 2014 to February of 2016, Hennerberg was a member of a group of individuals that worked together online to entice minor females to produce child pornography. The group members created fraudulent social media accounts posing as teenagers. Using the assumed identities, group members searched social media websites and engaged minor females, specifically targeting 10 to 14 year-old girls, in conversation using internet chat and video applications. The group members worked together for hours and sometimes even days to deceive their victims and convince them to undress and engage in sexually explicit activity live on a webcamera, which the group members recorded.
The group members used an elaborate scheme to entice, coerce, and deceive their victims. Each group member had at least one role, although at times a group member would play more than one role or switch from one role to another. The “hunters” visited social media websites commonly used by minors to locate minors and bring them back to the other group members. The “talkers” were primarily responsible for conversing with the minors. They asked the minors to do “dares” which escalated into sexual activity. If a victim was suspicious of the group members or reluctant to engage in sexual activity, the “loopers” would then play a previously recorded video of a minor engaged in sexual activity, pretending to be that minor, in order to convince the victim to engage in the same type of activity. Meanwhile, the “watchers” in the group were in charge of ensuring that no suspected law enforcement members or unwanted persons were present.
The group victimized at least 100 minor girls, most of whom have yet to be identified. If you have any information to help identify victims of this online conspiracy, fill out the FBI’s confidential survey at fbi.gov/sextortion or contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) at www.missingkids.com. A confidential email can also be sent to FBI.VICTIMASSISTANCE@ic.fbi.gov. Or call 1-800-CALL-FBI FREE (225-5324).
Co-defendants Virgil Napier, Jr. and John Garrison entered guilty pleas in June and July respectively and are currently scheduled to be sentenced in October by U.S. District Court Judge Judith E. Levy in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Co-defendants Justin Fuller, Thomas Dougherty and Dantly Nicart cases are at various stages in the proceedings.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Southeast Michigan Trafficking and Exploitation Crimes Task Force and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys April Russo and Sara Woodward.