Ridgefield man pleads guilty to ‘catfishing’ teens for child porn

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A Ridgefield man has pleaded guilty in federal court to charges stemming from exploitation of teens across the country via messaging apps.

On April 27, Joshua Henry Punt, 39, made his guilty plea on multiple federal felonies after he posed as a teenager on messaging apps and pressured other teens to send him sexually explicit photos and videos, a release from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Western District of Washington stated. 

An investigation into Punt turned up victims in multiple states whom he had contacted through Kik and Snapchat apps, including New York, Arkansas, California, Texas, Nevada, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

According to court records, Punt used profile pictures of “youthful YouTube personalities” to pose as an attractive teenager. Punt would begin conversations with the victims innocuously before demanding sexually provocative or explicit photos and videos, which Punt would record on a second phone, bypassing notifications on the applications that would let the victims know their content was being copied.

The Department of Justice release stated Punt threatened the victims, who ranged from 12 to 16 years old, by telling them he would send the photos and videos to schools, coaches, and other community members when they attempted to exit the “relationship.”  

The incidents charged in the case began around October 2018 and continued until May 2019 when Punt was arrested, an earlier release stated. One of Punt’s victims from New York had gone to police, which led authorities to seize his electronic devices from his home.

Punt was initially charged in Clark County Superior Court and received federal charges Nov. 7 of that year, the release stated.

Following Punt’s arrest, U.S. Attorney Brian Moran called the Ridgefield man “the ‘dangerous stranger’ we all hope our kids never meet.”

“He is alleged to have trolled the internet, posing as a teen, and probing for vulnerabilities in those looking for friendship,” Moran stated in the 2019 release. “What followed were threats, blackmail, and the horror of possibly having private moments put on display.”

The FBI discovered a cache of child pornography from links posted by Punt through a separate investigation, the release stated, adding Punt was an administrator of a distribution group for the material on the Kik app.

Punt is scheduled to be sentenced July 26 to a mandatory minimum of 15 years and up to life in prison for the charges of production, distribution, and advertisement of child pornography, and enticement of a minor. Prosecutors have agreed to recommend no more than 23 years in prison for Punt and he will be required to register as a sex offender following his sentence.

Both the prosecution and defense plan to recommend supervised release for Punt for the rest of his life, the release stated.

Punt was investigated by the Vancouver Police Department’s Digital Evidence Cybercrime Unit in conjunction with Homeland Security, with assistance from other law enforcement agencies, stated the release.

The case is part of Project Safe Childhood, an initiative launched in 2006 to combat child sexual exploitation and abuse. The project uses federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who exploit children through the internet. It is also used to identify and help victims.

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