A Huntington Beach teen accused of exchanging lewd photos with and soliciting sex from minors over a one-year period pleaded not guilty Thursday to 12 criminal counts.
Jackson Roland Westermeyer, 18, of Huntington Beach entered his plea at the Orange County Superior Court West Justice Center in Westminster.
Police called allegations that he posed as a girl on social media to lure victims, who ranged in age from 11 to 17, "complex and unique."
The Orange County district attorney's office filed 12 counts against the defendant, including meeting a minor to conduct lewd conduct, possessing child pornography and extortion of property by force or fear.
Westermeyer was booked at Huntington Beach City Jail on Wednesday. He posted $200,000 bail Thursday, according to court records.
Authorities believe that at least 50 to 100 victims, including at least one on the East Coast, were contacted by the suspect, Huntington Beach Police Chief Robert Handy said at a news conference.
Of the 10
who have been identified so far, nine are Huntington Beach residents. Handy said more charges could be added as authorities identify additional victims.
Police received a call Dec. 13 about a 13-year-old boy who was exchanging text messages and explicit photographs with a person he believed was a 13-year-old girl named Jesse, later identified to be Westermeyer, over the application Kik Messenger.
The victim became suspicious of Jesse's texts and informed a member of his family. Handy said one of the family members began answering the text messages and arranged a meeting with the sender.
The family accompanied the teen to the meeting area. Handy said the suspect arrived at the location but left before meeting the victim, though the family was able to write down the license plate number of the vehicle he was driving.
Authorities investigated the case and arrested Westermeyer on Dec. 20 on suspicion of meeting a minor for sex. Search warrants were issued for his computer, phone and electronic devices.
The defendant posted $25,000 bail on Dec. 24 and was released, according to court records.
As authorities pored through the confiscated digital evidence, they found more than 1,700 messages to multiple victims on Kik Messenger, Handy said.
Westermeyer is accused of using social media platforms — Facebook, ooVoo, Instagram and Skype — to lure victims. He allegedly adopted the account name "KatKat7777" and identified himself as a female teen named Jesse.
Handy said Westermeyer would solicit pictures from female teenagers and use those photos while posing under the alias. The suspect would then engage other teens, mainly boys, asking them for lewd pictures of themselves.
"So 11- to -year-old victims were exchanging messages and graphic images with who they thought were kids their own age," Handy said.
The police chief said conversations between Westermeyer and the victims began casually but changed in tone dramatically once explicit pictures were exchanged.
"The suspect would then bully, intimidate, threaten or even try to bribe the victims into providing more pictures, performing sex acts or arriving at a meeting location," Handy said.
Westermeyer is accused of threatening to post the graphic photos of his victims on social media if the victims didn't send more photos or agree to meet.
Handy said he does not know if the suspect actually made contact with any of his victims but that Westermeyer attempted to arrange at least three separate meetings with minors.
"Because of the age of these kids, we believe they need the support of their parents. They need the support of professionals to get through what's been occurring," said Handy, referring to the psychological scars left by the manipulation.
The Huntington Beach Police Department is asking for help from the public to identify additional victims. If parents see that their child has been in communication with a person named Jesse, or the account name "KatKat7777," they are encouraged to call the department's tip line at (714) 375-5066.