Jonathan Kassi of Van Nuys, CA, was arrested on Monday for allegedly posing as a teenage girl online and sharing explicit photos with Ryan Last, 17, before demanding $5,000 from him
Kassi, 25, allegedly threatened to share the photos of the boy to his friends and family if he didn’t pay up, leading Last to take his own life in February
Kassi had knocked down his initial demand from $5,000 to $150, but was insistent on being paid
Investigators said Kassi was connected to a larger ‘sextortion’ ring, based in West Africa The ‘sextortionist’ reached out to the high school senior in February, pretending to be a girl and sent the teen naked pictures
After Last sent explicit photos of himself back, the scammer revealed himself and demanded money from the 17-year-old’s college savings
His mother, Pauline Stuart, said his suicide note revealed how afraid and embarrassed he was about falling for the scam
Case became a symbol for the rise in ‘sextortionists’ targeting kids, especially teenage boys who’re then extorted for money
These type scams are on the rise with the FBI reporting more than 18,000 cases last year at least 3,000 young victims this year
Authorities said the scam artists stole an estimated $13 million in 2021 and has it has led to more than a dozen suicides this year
The schemes have led to more than a dozen suicides this year, the most the Department of Justice has scene from such crimes
The ‘sextortionist’ who allegedly posed as a teen girl and drove a 17-year-old boy to suicide after threatening to post explicit photos of him was finally arrested.
Ryan Last, a 17-year-old straight-A student from San Jose, who was making plans to attend Washington State University, died by suicide in February when he could not had over $5,000 to his blackmailer Jonathan Kassi.
Kassi, 25, is suspected of catfishing Ryan Last – pretending to be a girl sharing naked photos with Last before blackmailing the unsuspecting teenager.
The case gained national prominence after Last’s mother, Pauline Stuart, appeared on the Dr. Phil Show, urging parents to be on the look out for predators targeting their children online.
Kassi was arrested on Thursday in Van Nuys, California, north of Los Angeles.
Kassi was arraigned at the Santa Clara County Superior Court on Monday where he was charged with extortion and attempted disorderly conduct by posting photographs or recordings without consent, KTVU reported. His bail was set at $250,000.
The San Jose Police Internet Crimes Against Children said the Kassi was connected to a much larger ‘sextortion’ syndicate based in West Africa, and had been using the usernames Emily Smith and Cassie Jonathan to sexually exploit children on social media.
According to Last’s family and investigators, Kassi had sent the teen a naked photo they claimed was of themselves, then asked him to send one back in return.
Immediately after the scammer tricked Last into sending an intimate photo of himself, he demanded $5,000 from the teen or else they would share the photo of him online.
When the 17-year-old told the criminal he could not pay the full amount, Kassi allegedly asked for $150, which Last had to take out of his college savings.
But investigators said Kassi continued to pester Last for more cash, and drove him to end his own life after threatening to share the explicit photo of him to family and friends.
Last took his life inside his family home, just days before his 18th birthday, leaving a suicide note explaining what happened.
Pauline Stuart, who has since become an advocate against ‘sextortion’ scams targeting teens, said her family was unaware of what happened because her son, like many victims of these scams, felt too embarrassed to reach out for help.
‘We honestly never thought that something like this could target us, could reach out family,’ Pauline told reporters on Monday. ‘It just shows how easy it is.’
She added that she was glad detectives were able to track down the man allegedly responsible for her son’s death.
‘It’s amazing to know they worked really hard and were able to get somebody,’ said Stuart.
‘There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done in educating families and kids.’
Kassi’s bail was set at $250,000, as against the $1 million the victim’s family had requested.
Stuart sharing the details on CNN about her son’s death earlier this year, after finding out what happened when reading his suicide note, said: ‘Somebody reached out to him pretending to be a girl, and they started a conversation.’
‘He really, truly thought in that time that there wasn’t a way to get by if those pictures were actually posted online,’ Stuart said.
‘His note showed he was absolutely terrified. No child should have to be that scared.’
‘They kept demanding more and more and putting lots of continued pressure on him,’ Paul said, adding that the family only learned about what happened following Last’s suicide and a police investigation.
‘How could these people look at themselves in the mirror knowing that $150 is more important than a child’s life?
‘There’s no other word but ‘evil’ for me that they care much more about money than a child’s life,’ she added. ‘I don’t want anybody else to go through what we did.’
Following Kassi’s arraignment in court, the FBI re-issued a nationwide alert on the spike of ‘sextortion’ scams targeting youths, with at least 3,000 children, mostly teenage boys, reported as the latest victims this year.
Most of the victims were found to be between 14 and 17, but some included kids as young as 10 years old. The cases have been also linked to more than a dozen suicides, the most the Department of Justice has even seen regarding these crimes.
Victims tend to remain silent out of embarrassment and shame, causing them to feel that there’s no way out of the cycle of blackmail threats.
‘Victims may feel like there is no way out—it is up to all of us to reassure them that they are not in trouble, there is hope, and they are not alone,’ FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement.
FBI Supervisory Special Agent Dan Costin, who leads a team to counter crimes against children, told CNN earlier this year that US boys are being targeted by scams out of Africa and Southeast Asia.