An Alabama boy is among more than a dozen victims of a sexual exploitation scheme perpetrated by a young New Jersey pastor who posed as a teenage girl online and used blackmail to bring victims to perform sexual acts for him, prosecutors said.
Sean Higgins, a 31-year-old pastor in Palmyra, NJ, was indicted by a grand jury on 75 counts, including endangering the welfare of a child, aggravated sexual assault, touching criminal sexual offences, cyber-harassment and obscenity against a minor, Burlington, NJ County District Attorney LaChia L. Bradshaw said in a statement.
Higgins allegedly carried out the scheme in 2020, when he was youth pastor and music leader at Harbor Baptist Church in New Jersey and a teacher at Harbor Baptist Academy, a private K-12 school in that establishment.
To date, 13 victims have been identified.
The youth pastor allegedly posed as a teenage girl named Julie Miller on Snapchat and Instagram and befriended the underage victims. He then persuaded victims to send him nude photos of themselves while Higgins sent victims photos of a teenage girl.
Higgins would then send the victims a screenshot of their social media friend lists and threaten to send the nude photos to their friends unless the victims did as he demanded, Bradshaw alleged.
In most of the cases investigated by authorities, the youth pastor would have his victims go into a bathroom in their home and have them perform a sexual act on themselves while Higgins recorded the act.
The investigation began after a youngster from Pennsylvania contacted Snapchat and reported that he had sent nude photos of himself to someone he thought was an unknown woman but turned out to be Higgins.
An underage boy in Alabama also reported Higgins’ behavior to authorities, Bradshaw said.
Higgins has been imprisoned since 2020 in New Jersey after being taken into custody at his home.
Several electronic devices were seized during search warrants executed at Higgins’ home and church.