Ex-BYU student sentenced to 1 year in jail in sex extortion case
Emily Ashcraft, KSL.com
PROVO, Utah (KSL.com) — A former BYU student was sentenced on Wednesday to spend almost one year in jail after he pleaded guilty to threatening a teenage girl with disseminating nude photographs in order to convince her to send more photos.
Benjamin Christopher Shields, 21, who is from Maryland and is currently living in Provo and attending another university, was arrested while on BYU’s campus while he was a student at the school.
Initially, Shields was charged with three counts of aggravated sexual extortion of a child, a first-degree felony; aggravated sexual extortion and sexual exploitation of a minor, second-degree felonies. He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of sexual extortion, a third-degree felony, as part of a plea deal and the other charges were dismissed.
Shields was accused of asking multiple teenage and young girls he met through the internet for nude photos. One 16-year-old girl said he offered her $46,000 for an explicit video chat and $50 or $100 for nude photos, according to charging documents. She said Shields did not pay after she sent photos but threatened to release the photos if she did not send more.
After looking at Shields’ phone, police said they found multiple Snapchat accounts where he would offer young girls money for explicit acts or photos, and continued talking to one girl after she told him she was only 11.
Shields apologized for his actions at the hearing.
“I know that what I did was horrible, and I wish I could take it all back. … I know that nobody deserved the treatment that they got from me and that my behavior is inexcusable. I’ve taken every step I can to make sure that this never happens again, and I promise to them and to everyone here that nothing like this will ever happen again,” he said.
Shields’ attorney, Spencer “Benny” Salcido, said Shields was dealing with mental heath issues, with social isolation because of the pandemic and a cancer diagnosis for his mom, although he said none of that is an excuse for his actions. He said his client engaged in this crime because of the anonymity, and made the mistake of not thinking of the victim as a person.
“There’s a lot of things that he sacrificed and destroyed, not only in his life but in the victim’s lives as well,” Salcido said.
He said Shields has taken responsibility and agreed to recommend to the court that he spend 364 days in jail.
The victim and her family were not present at the hearing, but the prosecutor said they reviewed and agreed to the plea deal.
In addition to one year in jail, 4th District Judge Robert Lunnen sentenced Shields to 36 months of probation and told him to not have any contact with the victim, to complete a psychosexual evaluation, and to comply with specific sex offender conditions. He also ordered Shields to write a letter to the victim, which he said may reach the victim if her parents decide to pass it on, but is meant to be part of Shields’ healing process.
“Sometimes we forget easily about how our behavior affects other individuals and how it can continue to affect them over a period of years,” Lunnen said.
Shield’s mother attended the virtual hearing with her son, and Lunnen said he was glad to see that she was there.
“If more men and women had mothers that would stand by them no matter what they did and try to help them correct their behavior, we would probably not have all the crime that we do. I’m guessing that it would be cut in half or more,” the judge said.