Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Public safety

Using coercion, Tarpon Springs man got teens to send nude pictures, agents say

Melvin B. Bridgers III wouldn't take no for an answer, authorities say.

Posing as a young girl on Facebook, federal agents say, Bridgers persuaded a 12-year-old Texas girl to send nude photos of herself last fall, then demanded more photos of her and the girl's 7-year-old sister. To coerce the girl, investigators say, he threatened to publicly post the photos she'd already sent, and send them to her mother, too.

"I got all the pics uploaded … to send to your mom in a message and I'm about to hit send if you don't f------ answer me," Bridgers told the girl in one message, according to an affidavit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Tampa. "So what's it going to be?"

Bridgers, 34, was being held without bail Saturday in the Pinellas County Jail after his arrest Thursday. He faces charges of production, possession, receipt and distribution of child pornography.

Investigators searched the Tarpon Springs apartment where he was staying and found in his bed a laptop computer containing multiple images of young girls engaged in sex acts or explicit poses. Bridgers admitted to posing as a young girl on Facebook and coercing other girls to send him the photos and videos, the affidavit states.

Facebook administrators alerted authorities in January that child pornography had been linked to an account with the user name "Brianna Benson." Investigators also learned that a woman outside of Houston had contacted police there in December to report that someone using a Brianna Benson Facebook account had persuaded her 12-year-old daughter to send nude photos of herself through private messages. The person demanded more photos of the girl and her 7-year year-old sister, and promised to "leave you alone forever" if she sent them, according to excerpts of online conversations included in the affidavit.

"I can't do that to her," the girl responded. "I beg you. Please."

The person behind the account sent a string of threatening, profanity-laced messages but eventually gave up, the affidavit shows.

A federal agent and a Pinellas sheriff's detective tracked the account to the Tarpon Springs apartment that Bridgers shared with a roommate. They noted that Bridgers had been arrested in 2011 and charged with video voyeurism in Palm Beach County. Police there said he was caught using a cellphone camera to take pictures up the skirt of a preteen girl in a candy store.

Investigators say Bridgers created Facebook pages with names such as "Cutest girls" and "Cutest boys" as a way to lure young girls. Using the Brianna Benson account, Bridgers would compliment girls about their appearance and ask their age and sexual orientation. He would reply that he was about the same age and taking "sexy pictures" because he was bored. He would then tell the girls, who ranged in age from 11 to 16, to take photos and how to pose, the affidavit states.

The affidavit does not say how many girls Bridgers is accused of victimizing. According to the document, he has prior convictions in North Carolina for stalking and communication of a threat, and he has served prison time for armed robbery.

News researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Tony Marrero can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @tmarrerotimes on Twitter.

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