Web of Make Believe: Death, Lies and the Internet (2022) s01e04 Episode Script

Sextortion

1
[birds calling.]

[water burbling.]

[woman.]
I went to Belmont,
and it was shockingly quiet.

I was downtown in the morning,
kind of when people are going to work,
nine o'clock-ish,
and there was just no action.

I saw virtually nobody on the street.

I went to school, then it let out.

Even then I could hear leaves rustle.

It was a very quiet town.

[bell tolls.]

[woman.]
And I don't know
if I was bringing that to it
because of what I already knew
about what had happened there.

[melancholy string music playing.]

This is a case that takes place
in the world of the Internet.

It's like this whole other world
that doesn't exist
in the day-to-day of Belmont.

[woman 2.]
I wanted to share my story
because this is a crime.

People, they don't know that
what you put out there stays out there.

[tense theme music playing.]

[soft, dreamy music playing.]

[indistinct student chatter.]

[school bell ringing faintly.]

[woman 3.]
Belmont High School was,
I guess [exhales.]

a regular high school.

You had the jocks, you had the mean kids
and little groups and cliques.

[school bell ringing.]

[woman 2.]
This was a time
that Myspace was phasing out
and Facebook was becoming a thing.

[woman 3.]
It seemed innocent at first.

We were just consumed
with the Internet lifestyle.

[woman 2.]

Back when I was in high school,
I was what the kids at the time
were called, uh, emo kids.

So we all had, you know,
hair that covered our face
and skinny jeans.

And we listened to
a lot of hardcore music.

As a high school student,
I wasn't allowed
to have a cell phone or use the Internet.

Social media wasn't a big part of my life
until I had moved out when I was 17.

I had a very toxic home environment.

My mother was very protective
and didn't really like me
having that access
that came with social media.

After I graduated high school in 2011,
I was kicked out of my home
and I was sent to live
with my grandparents in North Carolina.

So it was a huge difference from Belmont.

I got a cell phone.

I got Snapchat, Facebook.

All of those things that
I wasn't allowed to have before.

I was really excited about
the freedom of being able to use them.

I went from having a small pool of people
that I was able to interact with
to suddenly having access
to a lot of people.

I did some online dating at the time.

I think as a teen,
I was just kind of boy crazy.

[cell phone chimes.]

[Frazel.]
I remember getting a message
from someone who went by the name Seth.

He seemed kind of cute
in his profile picture.

We had some of the same friends,
so we started chatting.

[typing clicking.]

[Frazel.]
I was very kind of innocent.

I'd never had someone I didn't know before
be constantly messaging me,
asking me information about myself.

[suspenseful music playing.]

[Frazel.]
He was being sort of flirtatious.

I wasn't really
interested in reciprocating.

And then it became
asking me to send him selfies,
and it quickly grew into,
"Can you send me naked photos?"
And I think I remember him
asking me the first time, like,
"Have you sent anyone any before?"
And I was pretty honest.

I was like, "Yeah,
I've sent one to an ex-boyfriend of mine.
"
[text bubbles popping.]

It was growing to a level
that was sort of like harassment.

I was no longer comfortable
with the conversation.

So I sort of took a step back.

At the time, I was a receptionist
at a local car dealership.

One night, I was sitting at the desk.

I had a little office.

I keep getting these pings on my phone.

Again, it was him
asking me to respond to him
and saying I would regret
if I didn't respond to him.

He says, "I want that picture.
"
And I said, "No,"
and "Don't make me block this number.
"
And so he said, "I'll trade
you your Facebook for a picture.
"
That's when I found out
that he had access to my Facebook account.

My emails,
my work emails, my bank accounts.

He had access to everything
and had kicked my access out.

He said, "The only way
you're going to get them back
is if you send me what I want.
"
[suspenseful music continues.]

[Frazel.]
It was terrifying.

I felt angry
and embarrassed and frightened.

And I remember sitting in my car
and crying, not knowing what to do.

I lost my temper with him.

And I quickly realized that
that wasn't going to work.

He let me know that he had
all the power in that situation.

In my email, he found
that one nude photo that I had sent.

He said he would put
that as my profile picture.

He would email it to
my loved ones and my co-workers.

He said, "This is going to ruin your life
and it's gonna be your fault.
"
[bell tolls faintly.]

Being from the South,
it's a very Christian Baptist environment.

Sending pictures to your boyfriend is not
considered to be something
that young girls should be doing.

Also, the idea of half-naked photos
being sent to my boss
was really terrifying.

I think the scariest part about it is,
I didn't know who it was.

I didn't know if this was
a co-worker in the office down the hall.

I didn't know if this is a neighbor
that I had come into contact with.

The scariest thing about Seth
is the fact that he was so anonymous,
that he could be anyone I was talking to.

[tense music playing.]

[Frazel.]
I felt like this was
someone who was very unbalanced.

He had my address
and he had told me
that he would hurt me
or that he would sexually assault me,
and that was something
that I thought about all the time.

I said, "I'm not showing you anything.
"
"I've been beaten
and molested and abused.
"
I said, "I won't be manipulated.
"
"You get off on
tormenting innocents like this.
"
"How on Earth could you do that?"
So he responded,
"With my dick.
Just send me pictures.
"
I think I spent so long
trying not to think about what happened
that when you read
the actual interaction, it's, um
it brings up all of these feelings
about what it felt like
to be treated that way.

[tense music playing.]

[woman 2.]

I think I was maybe 16 when this started.

[woman 3.]
So I was about 15.

[woman 4.]
I would say I was like 15, 16.

[woman 2.]

All I can remember is sitting in my bed
and getting a friend request
from someone named Seth Williams.

And to me,
I thought he looked kind of cute.

He only had one picture.

I added him as a friend
and I didn't think anything of it.

I was like, "Whatever.

What's another friend?"
We got each other's numbers
and then he had messaged me
off the number, and we talked for a bit.

I just thought it was some kid
just being a kid.

"Oh, well.
Hey, I'll give him a run for
his money if he wants to talk to me.

He messaged me
and he was complimenting me,
telling me I was pretty,
that I had nice hair and eyes.

He was super sweet.

He was so nice, asked questions about me.

I thought he was a nice guy.

That I was going to actually be able
to have a nice person in my life.

At first, I was sending him
pictures of my butt, and, um
with the pants on
and then with the pants off
and it was strictly just of my backside.

Then he asked for, um, no underwear.

And then that's when
I was a little more like,
"No, I I would rather not.
"
It rapidly accelerated
after that one picture.

[Waterman.]
He started
to get more, like, aggressive.

I remember him saying, like,
"You should be my girlfriend,"
all these other things,
and I was like, "I don't even know you.
"
That's when things just spiraled.

One day I got a text message
from a totally random number.

I open up my phone
and I saw nude pictures of myself.

So, I messaged
and I was like, "Who's this?"
And they responded back with,
"Either you send me pictures of yourself,
or I'm going to send them
to other people.
"
I had a full naked picture
that he had sent me
and said that he was going to send it
if I didn't send him new pictures.

I actually found
a couple fake pictures offline
to send to him off the Internet
so that maybe he'd leave me alone.

He said, "I know that's not you.

Send me an actual picture of you.
"
[Mingo.]
"If you don't give me a picture,
I'm going to send this to everyone.
"
"I'm going to send this to
your loved ones, to the people you know.
"
"I'm gonna put it on Facebook.
"
"I'm going to email this to the school.

Everybody's going to get your picture.
"
Next thing I knew, my Facebook
was shut down and I couldn't get into it.

And not only was my Facebook shut down,
but so was my email.

On my Amazon account,
he bought me a dildo.

He bought me lubrication.

He bought me sex videos.

When I had to tell my gram
that he had bought me a dildo,
when it came in the mail
try to explain that to
try to explain that to somebody.

I didn't know what to think.

I couldn't believe
that this was happening.

I was always looking over my shoulder.

It could be anybody
that I looked at down the street.

It could be anybody that I drived by.

It could have been anyone,
and I didn't know how to handle that.

I didn't know what to do about that.

I got a text message that said,
"Send me
a naked picture or I'll kill you.
"
I didn't know who it was.

I didn't know if they were
just going to come randomly
and kidnap me or something.

I thought maybe like I was going crazy.

[cell phone buzzing.]

[Frazel.]
I remember
waking up to a text message.

He said, you know, "Kenz, I'm so sorry.
"
"I'm sorry about doing this to you.

It's because I love you.
"
"I'm in love with you.

I didn't mean to hurt you.
"
And suddenly,
I was able to log back in everything.

[suspenseful music playing.]

I spoke with my grandparents
and I let them know some of the details,
and we went to the police department.

I had printed out
all of the text exchange.

I was able to secure his IP address.

So I was hoping
by handing this off to the police
that it would be able to locate him,
maybe be able
to do something about the situation.

They looked at me like they didn't
even know what that was at the time.

I felt like I had done something good,
like that I discovered something helpful
and it felt vindicating.

And I think I was really disappointed
when this person pulled me aside
and said, you know,
nothing was really going to come of it.

I definitely felt like the police
in North Carolina failed me
by not taking the issue seriously.

[Clifford.]
I covered courts
for The Times for a long time
and I noticed a few cases
where the harassers would
demand photos or video from the victims
and then use that to extort them.

[Quinta Jurecic.]

I first heard the term sextortion in 2015,
when I was poring through
an enormous amount of news articles,
court documents,
everything you can think of,
trying to create what we at the time
thought was, and I believe is,
the first sort of database
of sextortion cases.

Our findings essentially were
that sextortion is common.

At the time, it sounded like a funny word,
a phrase no one had heard of.

But the amount of victims
affected in those cases,
our estimates ranged from
anywhere from 3,000 to around 6,000.

Sextortion makes it possible to
essentially commit sexual abuse at scale.

Perpetrators can attack hundreds,
even thousands of people.

It can seem mitigated in some way
by the fact that it largely takes place
through the medium of the Internet,
but I do think putting sextortion
in the realm of sexual violence
is necessary in order
to understand the brutality of it.

[Waterman.]
Belmont is a really small town.

You know, I told my best friend
I had lost my virginity
and then it kind of grew like wildfire.

I was being called, you know, a slut
and a whore and all these other things,
and I didn't want anyone to know
that I had sent nude photos of myself
because of the fear that, you know,
my friends and family would judge me
the same as my peers had.

[Mingo.]
I didn't talk to anyone about it.

I felt ashamed
and I didn't know how to talk about it.

I didn't know how to explain my situation
without explaining what I had done.

And I felt like I was at fault.

I felt like I did it to myself,
and I didn't want anybody
to know about that.

[Waterman.]
I had one friend,
Ryan, at Belmont High School,
who was really quiet and timid
and he didn't really
have a lot of friends.

So he was really
the only person that I was talking to
shortly after the messages started.

Because I felt like
I needed to tell someone
and that he would keep it secret.

And he would be
really supportive and be like,
"It's okay.
Keep your head up.

You're a good person.
"
But then anytime that I would
get a harassing message from Seth,
I would get so ashamed.

These messages happened once a week
or sometimes, you know,
every other day for months.

I started cutting myself.

Um
[chuckles emotionally.]
I'm sorry.

I was actually planning
on taking a knife in my mom's kitchen
and just slitting my throat.

[exhales.]

I finally reached a point
in where it was getting so bad,
I remember looking at my mom
and begging her to let me kill myself.

Um
I remember just pleading and saying,
"I can't do this.
I'm not strong enough.
"
"Please let me die.
" Um
And she was so confused
because she didn't know anything
about what I was going through.

Um
and I just, I kept repeating myself
and she kept asking me what was going on.

So, finally, I gave her my phone
and I said, "Mom, I can't do this.
"
"I want to die and I'm begging you
to let me kill myself.
" Um
And from that point,
my mom looked at me and said,
"We're gonna do something about this
because I'm not gonna let you die.
"
[inhales.]
Um
And my mom validated me
and said, "I'm not ashamed of you.
"
"I love you and it's okay
that you did something
that you're not proud of.
"
"But you don't have to die,
and you don't have to beg me
to kill yourself to feel that way.
"
So, that was a really big plus in my life,
um, to know that my mom had my back,
even though I felt like,
um, I disappointed her.

And so I remember
the next day I didn't go to school.

She took me right down
to the police station, and she said,
"We need to figure this out
because my daughter's life has more value
than whoever is doing this.
" So
[Mingo.]

He kept texting me and he had said,
"All your friends are doing it.

Why won't you?"
And sent me pictures of a bunch of people
that I had gone to school with
and that I knew, personally,
and one of those friends on that list
was a really good friend of mine
and I called her instantly,
and she was like,
"You need to go upstairs right now.
"
"Talk to your mom
and go to the police station.
"
I didn't think of going to the cops
because I didn't realize
that it was something that was that big,
that it would be something that drastic
that the cops would need to be involved.

So, I said, "Mom, I need
to talk to you about something
and I'm not sure
how to talk to you about it.
"
She accepted it
and she knew that I had been through a lot
and she wasn't going to shame me.

She wasn't going to make me
feel like I had done something wrong.

It was like a ton of bricks
were taken off of my shoulders.

It was like a rainy storm with a rainbow.

I felt lighter.

I felt like I had someone
that was on my side.

She immediately was like, "Okay,
we're going to
the police station in the morning.
"
And that's what we did.

[Moulton.]
I started
here in Belmont in 2005,
and I've been working
as a detective since 2007.

In this line of work,
you have to be very open-minded.

The world is continually changing,
and you have to change with it.

So, this is, uh, Belmont High School.

A small-knit community,
a lot of kids know each other.

There's probably about
under 500 students at the school total.

In March of 2012,
I was notified that this
young lady had come in.

She had sent
nude photos of herself to a boyfriend.

Since then,
she was getting random text messages
from someone she didn't know.

My thought process at that point is
it had to be someone from the area,
but then because Facebook
was so big at the time,
it would be very easy
for someone sitting in California
to target these young ladies
because they put
so much information out on Facebook.

[Clifford.]
This is an Internet case
which most small-town cops won't take,
because they don't think
they're really solvable.

So she's doing this nights and weekends,
and taking work home
and trying to get up to speed
on the Internet
and subpoenas and all of that.

[Moulton.]
It became
overwhelming after a while.

I was told that you're never
going to find out who this person is,
but I wanted to see a positive end result
for these young ladies.

And the last thing I wanted to do
is go and tell them
that I don't know who it is.

Detective Moulton
obviously didn't want to scare me,
but made it very, very knowledgeable
that I needed to be careful
and we didn't know
how dangerous he could be.

[Moulton.]
At one point, he started asking
these young ladies to meet up with him.

I received a call
from one of them and said,
"Hey, I'm actively texting him right now.

Would you like to talk to him?"
So this was my opportunity
to find out if this was someone local,
or someone that was well out of the area.

There's a cement monument
in this area called The Arches.

A lot of kids would meet there.

He asked me if I was
talking about the Golden Arches,
meaning McDonald's.

And I can remember
getting that back in the text message
and thinking, "He's not from around here.
"
[tense music playing.]

[Clifford.]
She's not an Internet expert.

She's not getting responses
very quickly from Facebook.

Even if she gets a subpoena,
to get the next subpoena cleared,
she's gotta wait and wait.

[Moulton.]
The first time
we received an IP address,
it was a 60-year-old woman.

Well, I don't think that
a 60-year-old woman is doing this.

[Clifford.]
Seth has been using a system
that kind of masks the cell phone number.

So they're getting texts
from a new number every time.

It's taking so long, the girls
are frantic, the parents are frantic.

Is it this guy in the corner?
Is it the dude who lives upstairs?
It could be anyone.

[tense music continues.]

[Moulton.]
Finally, one day,
a young lady came in
and provided me with a cell phone number
that she had taken a screenshot of.

And at the bottom of this cell phone
number that came across on her phone
it said "TextFree.
"
[Clifford.]
At this point,
this investigation was
going on for almost a full year.

She subpoenas Pinger,
the parent company of TextFree.

[Moulton.]
Through that, I contacted Apple
and they, through court processes,
were able to provide us with the person
that owned this particular device.

That's when I had a name
and a face to this person.

Ryan Vallee.

[suspenseful music playing.]

[Moulton.]
Okay, I have this.

Now I've got to think about a game plan
of what do I do with all this information?
[Jurecic.]
Prosecutors are taking
this seriously in the federal level,
but on the state level,
the ultimate sentence you might face
if you plead guilty or are convicted
is a power of ten lower.

[Moulton.]
By the end of this, I had over
25 young ladies come in and talk to me.

He would definitely start off
with friendly conversations.

A lot of times
when he was talking to them,
he was trying to gain
information about them
so that he would use that information
to hack into their accounts.

He deserved to do some time
for what he had done.

I realized that
I needed to get in some help.

So I contacted several federal agencies.

[man.]
When I first met Raechel,
she had identified Ryan Vallee
as a potential suspect.

She had books of material
she had been developing.

She asked us, "Is this something that
we could prosecute at a higher level?"
And what we could do with a legal
authority to get continuous subpoenas
and get this information
back sooner using federal authority.

[Moulton.]
Secret Service
really started digging into my case
and what I had already done,
and realized that
there was more information to gain.

I was notified that
there was going to be an arrest,
but we have to wait for it.

He decided to make a new Facebook
and he spelled my name wrong,
but he included all of my photos,
my naked photos
and my regular photos,
onto the Facebook.

We got in contact immediately
with Facebook to get it off the site,
but, um, it continued
to send home the message that, uh
he's going to continue to escalate.

[Clifford.]
Raechel
decided to tell some of the girls
who'd been most victimized by Seth
who he was.

It was a hard call for her
and a slightly unusual call
to reveal that partway through a case,
but she felt like
they were so upset and so worried
that it was some old or older stranger
and that they'd be relieved to be like,
"Oh, it's just
this guy in in my high school.
"
She had asked me
if I knew of someone named Ryan Vallee.

And instantly, I
It was like a whoosh of just air.

It was just, like, realization.

I used to ride the bus with him.

I tried to be so nice to him
because he was an outcast.

He was quiet
and he was kind of like me, shy,
but he was the last person
that I would ever think of.

[Waterman.]
I thought
he was my friend the whole time.

I was so upset
because I was like, "How dare you?"
"I befriended you.
I was nice to you.
"
"I treated you like a human
and you degraded me.
"
"And at my lowest point in my life
of thinking that I can't do it anymore,
you were the person doing that to me.
"
I think that was the hardest,
knowing that he still
pretended to be my friend,
and he was the one behind all of it.

[Mingo.]
It was
right after I found out who he was.

I got a text from him,
he said, "I know where you live
and I know where you work.
"
And I went to work
and, uh, he showed up with his mom.

At the time,
I wasn't supposed to know who he was.

So I had to pretend like I didn't know him
and I had to just act
like everything was okay.

But I was a nervous wreck.

I was in total anxiety.

It needed to stop, right?
We couldn't allow this individual
that we had probable cause
to believe was committing these crimes
to continue to commit those crimes.

So he had to get arrested.

[Moulton.]
He was notified
that we had secured
an arrest warrant for a harassment charge.

[Peck.]
He turned himself in
to the Belmont police department.

[Moulton.]
We asked
to look at his cell phone,
he allowed us to do that
and found that it was wiped clean.

All the way through the very
little bit of conversation that we had,
he denied that it was him
and he had no idea
what we were talking about.

[O'Neill.]
The initial charges
were dismissed without prejudice,
meaning he is, uh, released,
but he could be re-charged.

It was more of a tactical decision
in order to make sure
that we could get a conviction
once all of the necessary
information came back.

At that point in time,
I suggested to bring in Mona.

[electronic music playing.]

[Sedky.]
I personally have been
involved in handling sextortion cases
for seven or eight years.

My job was to come in
and try to figure out
what crimes we can charge.

And we're continuing to investigate
because he's continuing
to say that he didn't do it.

So we are continuing to dig.

In summer 2015,
they bring this
long indictment against him
and it lists ten victims
and gives really specific things
about what he was saying to them
and what he was doing to them.

Nothing seems to happen in a good way.

He's not contacting the girls again,
nobody's getting messages
as far as they know,
although they don't know everything yet.

He just is not interested in a plea.

We're doing trial prep up in New Hampshire
and we're bringing in victims all day long
to prepare them for trial.

A lot of them work
the night shift at the local factory.

So they've been working all night long
and they're coming in
off the shift in their spare time,
bleary-eyed and exhausted, quite frankly,
and then having to relive their nightmare.

[Clifford.]
These girls are so brave
for telling their story
and for talking about this.

A lot of the girls drop out.

I was terrified
because I knew that I had
to be in the same room with him.

Not to mention
just be in the same room with him,
but I had to speak
and talk about what happened to me.

[O'Neill.]
We were really concerned about
who we were bringing up to testify
because we didn't want to do
additional damage to a victim.

[Sedky.]
I remember one
of the young women says to me,
"Is Ryan Vallee going to be seeing
my photographs during the trial, too,
while I'm up there on the witness stand?"
And it had never occurred to me.

It's bad enough that the jury
has to look at the photographs
and the judge has
to look at the photographs,
and I have to look at the photographs,
but she's going to be
re-victimized by her perpetrator!
It scared me
to have to possibly testify.
Um
Because, for the longest time,
I don't think
I could have looked him in the eyes
and it was
really intimidating because, you know,
I did have a close connection with him
and I thought he was my friend.

[Sedky.]
So we're trying to get
this case to not have to go to trial
and he just won't play ball.

I thought we had quite a strong case,
but we couldn't get him to plead guilty
and, um, and then
like manna from heaven,
we get a call from a woman
who was not on our radar at all.

[tense music playing.]

[Frazel.]
Two or three years
after the first interaction,
he reached out to me again
under a different name.

But this time I recognized the name.

It was a girl
that I had gone to high school with.

He sent me a bunch
of explicit, nude photos of women,
and he said, "You know,
if you don't give me what I want,
now I'm not going to ruin your life.

I'm going to run their lives.
"
I recognized not only the girl
whose name he was contacting me under,
but one of the girls in the photographs.

It suddenly shifted for me
that he wasn't somewhere where I was,
he was somewhere where I was previously,
Belmont High School.

So I reached out to both girls.

One of them had reached out
to law enforcement
and so I asked for that contact.

[uplifting music playing.]

[Frazel.]
I was just really glad
that someone was taking me seriously.

[Sedky.]
Mackenzie had moved away
her senior year of high school.

So, she had never filed
a police report with Belmont PD,
which was our primary source of evidence
for identifying victims.

[Frazel.]
I remember
someone asking me, you know,
"When was the last time he contacted you?"
And I said something like, "I don't know,
two days ago, three days ago.
"
[Peck.]
And we were shocked.

Not only had
he already been charged again,
but he was back at it while he's on bail.

And, obviously, that's a huge no-no.

[Sedky.]
This is the gift.
I mean,
this is it for a couple of reasons.

One is, he would be violating
his conditions of supervised release,
so we would be able to get him in custody.

And two, I've got my cyber stalking charge
because the victim was in another state.

So, we have two huge avenues
that have just opened up here.

We decide to get what's called a
it's almost like a wiretap,
but it's called a pen register
trap-and-trace device, a PRTT.

So we're getting daily IP logs
to try to track his whereabouts
and see if we can get an IP address
that we can pin on Ryan Vallee.

And Matt, who is very adept at posing
as teenage girls and young women,
he is this
very testosterone, macho investigator,
and yet he plays
a woman very well, very effectively.

And so, he immediately takes over
her account with her consent, obviously,
and starts flirting with, a little bit,
but pushing back, too,
and playing hard-to-get "Seth/Ryan.
"
[tense music playing.]

[O'Neill.]
My first experience working
undercover cases was posing as women
to lure Romanian men
into the United States to arrest them.

In that case,
I was posing as two different girls
to two different guys simultaneously.

And that helped because
when I took over Mackenzie's profile,
I had spent years being a woman anyway.

So I kind of knew what a guy and a girl,
how they talk and how they don't talk.

And I know the pressure points
that a 23-year-old kid wants to hear
and I'm going to give it to him, uh
metaphorically.

I figured if I can lure a guy from
Craiova, Romania to Boston Logan Airport,
I can lure this guy
out of Laconia, New Hampshire.

Her goal was to get him
to stop harassing her.

My goal was to just try
to get him to say something.

"You haven't told me your name,
haven't told me anything about you.
"
And he'd always
bring it back to, you know,
"Take a picture of your butt,"
or something like that,
where then I would act angry again
and then sort of walk that line
and then try to get him
to give me another little nugget.

"How do you know me?
Were we in the same class?"
"What kind of car do you drive?"
And everything that he would say
turned out to be 100% Ryan.

[cell phone chimes.]

[Frazel.]
I looked at them
and read the interaction.

And I remember thinking,
"Oh my gosh, this sounds nothing like me.
"
I always used
punctuation and full sentences.

It's just, like, how I was raised.

And I remember seeing
their text messages to him, um
in shorthand and unpunctuated
and kind of in slang.

I was like, "Whoa,
that doesn't sound anything like me,"
but still he responded as if it was.

And that was
a huge turning point in my head
because I'm like this
has nothing to do with me.

Like, he doesn't even know this isn't me.

This is just some idea
that he had in his head.

[eerie music playing.]

[Sedky.]
The one thing that we thought
would really bring Ryan Vallee to a plea
was if we were able to get a device
that was on his person
that had incriminating evidence in it.

[Peck.]
We had set up
just down the road from his house.

Matt was actively engaged with Ryan
and then Matt contacted us and he said,
"We just shut down
communication for right now.
"
"He says he has something to do.
"
Very shortly thereafter,
Ryan Vallee came
driving out in a silver SUV
and drove right down
the road in front of us.

At that point, we knew
we had the green light to arrest him.

It was happening.

[police siren wailing.]

[siren stops.]

[Peck.]
We came up behind Vallee.

We deployed out of the vehicle
in traditional
Secret Service tactical raid vests.

We went up to the vehicle.

Vallee's window was down and I said,
"Show me your hands,
shut the vehicle down.
"
The normal law enforcement jargon.

He said, "No, no, no.
"
And then I went to reach for his keys
as another agent
came in from the other door
- and he just slammed on it and took off.

- [wheels squealing.]

And I say now we're in a full pursuit
and not knowing
where this was going to go.

[siren wailing.]

[Sedky.]

We're in the war room hearing all of this.

I've been a criminal prosecutor
for 13 years
and I've never had
a defendant speed away in a car
and have a high-speed chase.

[brakes screeching.]

[siren wailing.]

[exciting music playing.]

[Sedky.]
We now have
lots of police following him,
all with their lights blaring.

He's not only speeding,
but he's actually weaving
into oncoming traffic.

[siren continues.]

[tires screeching.]

[brakes squeal.]

[Sedky.]
His mother ultimately called him.

Get outta the car!
She talked him into stopping the vehicle.

Get outta the car!
[Peck.]
At that point,
he was taken from the vehicle,
checked for weapons.

[handcuffs clicking.]

[Peck.]
He was screaming,
"You can't do this to me.
"
[tense music playing.]

[Sedky.]
We found
two phones in his backpack.

One of the phones was like a flip phone,
not Internet-enabled.

They open up the Nintendo DS case
and there is the smartphone.

And when someone has hidden
their phone in a Nintendo DS case,
that's pretty much where you know
the criminal evidence is going to be.

We knew this was
going to be the treasure trove.

On that were original images
that we'd been investigating
the entire investigation.

He still possessed them
in that one device.

And so, we feel pretty confident
that once we reveal
to Ryan Vallee and his attorney
what we found off of his cellphone,
we thought that was going to do it
in terms of getting him to come forward
and decide that he should plead guilty
and that is what happened.

[cell door buzzing.]

[Mingo.]
I felt relieved.

I felt very relieved
that he was going to plead guilty.

I just don't understand
how someone could wake up
and come up with this entire plan.

It's my main question.
Why?
Why would you do that? Why me? Why them?
[Ford.]
Why did you pick me?
Why did you tell me you're going
to kill me if I don't send you pictures?
Did you actually plan
on doing it if I didn't?
How long would you have
kept going if you never got caught?
It's just a lot of unanswered questions.

[Peck.]
From the specific device
we found in the bag in the car,
they were able to
also check his search history.

[Peck.]
We learn that he is
doing searches for things like, um
I had to learn all of
these acronyms for this case,
PTHC, preteen hardcore.
Child pornography.

Like, this is a side of Ryan Vallee
that we didn't know about.

[Peck.]
One of the statements
during the search of his device
that he had searched was,
"Why can't I be a good person?"
Or some version thereof.

That shows the kind of mindset
that something isn't right here.
What
There's a demon there.

There's something being fought.

[Moulton.]
It had been about five years
that we were dealing with this case,
from beginning to end.

Every day,
I drove down this very road to go to work
and little did I know
I was going right by his house.

Why he chose to pick young females
and do what he did to them, I'm not sure.

I'll never never know.

[Clifford.]
The prosecutors
contacted all of the victims and said,
"You can come
to the sentencing hearing and talk.
"
There's an opportunity for victims to be
heard at every sentencing hearing.
Um
Most of them didn't,
and three of them decided to go.

[Mingo.]
I didn't know
what to wear to the testimony.

I didn't know how to dress.

That seemed so unimportant,
but it was something
that I couldn't grasp,
I couldn't take control over
because I was so nervous.

I was really motivated to do it.

But you know, when the time came,
it's very overwhelming.

So, I was nervous
about seeing him in person.

I didn't really know what to expect.

When I finally saw him,
I felt really relieved.

All that could go through my head was,
if I had known who this was
and I had seen him in person,
I don't think I would have been scared.

I think I had created him to be this
really faceless monster in my head.

And seeing him in person, he
looked like a guy.

He looked like
someone I would have
gone to high school with.

And I think seeing that, uh
was a huge relief,
especially, uh, in orange.

I'm a stronger person for sure,
but I think loving yourself
is the most important.

And to love myself
for the first time in a long time,
it feels really good,
and I'm proud of myself.

[Mingo.]
When I started
actually reading my testimony,
I was a mess.
I was a mess.

I knew that for sure.

I was shaking out of control.

I couldn't stop.

But I knew that it had to be done.

I started just speaking from my heart
and I was speaking
what I felt needed to be said.

And it wasn't all on paper
and it just came out and it felt right.

He didn't diminish me.

He didn't destroy me.

I'm still here.
I'm still standing.

I'm still living my life.

He's the one that did the wrong.

I didn't do wrong.

I knew that if I just got this done with,
if I just went through this,
it would be the end.

And I would get there.

[reporter.]

Federal prosecutors called Ryan Vallee
a cyber sexual predator,
who over the course of several years
targeted dozens of teenage girls
and extorted
sexually explicit photographs.

Vallee was sentenced
to eight years in prison.

Prosecutors say
they are pleased with the outcome.

[Peck.]
It was gratifying to know
that Ryan Vallee was stopped,
that these 23 victims
had a level of justice
for what was done to them
and a level of closure.

What scares me is
there's hundreds, if not thousands,
more Ryan Vallees out there.

["Run Me Out" by Zola Jesus playing.]

[Jurecic.]
There have always been examples
of people hurting one another
and people will always use new technology
to figure out a way to hurt one another
in new and innovative ways.

That said,
it is important to recognize the way
that this new technology, right now,
enables this way of harming others
because I think we're on a cusp.

An Internet that was
supposed to enable connection,
openness, diversity of ideas
Run ♪
Me ♪
Out ♪
Again ♪
[Jurecic.]
sort of curdling
and turning into something very ugly.

Run ♪
The victims in this case
told somebody that they trusted,
cooperated with law enforcement.

They got this guy arrested and sentenced
to a not inconsiderable amount of time
and then they've gone on-screen
and shown their faces and talked about it.

You know that I'm tired ♪
[Goldberg.]
These women
have done something very generous.

But it don't matter 'cause ♪
I have decided to show my face
and relive this experience
and express that I am who I am
because I don't want
someone else to feel ashamed.

I don't want someone to see a blurred face
and think that that person is ashamed.

He has no control over me anymore.

I took my life back.

Now he's gone,
and I'm living my life
and I couldn't be prouder of it.

Again ♪
[tense theme music playing.]

[man 2.]
I never really
wanted to commit crimes.

The crimes were a necessary evil
to get around
a system I didn't believe in.

[theme music continues.]

[police siren wailing.]

[agent.]
It was not normal
and we then became suspicious.

[man 3.]
Here I am, I'm teaching him
exactly how to launder money,
how to do it safely and securely.

Hey, this is how
you can make a million dollars.

[music continues.]

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