By Tresa Baldas, Detroit Free Press
They were dubbed the “Bored Group” — nine online predators who targeted vulnerable teenage girls on the Internet, manipulating them into performing sex acts online and even convincing some to cut themselves while they watched.
For five years, they pretended to be teenage boys.
But on Wednesday, the grown men who lurked behind the computer screens came face to face with some of their victims in U.S. District Court in Detroit, where the still-traumatized victims persuaded a judge to lock the men up for decades for robbing their innocence and trust, and for destroying their childhoods.
“Thinking back to those days causes me to cry myself to sleep, wondering when the monsters will stop haunting me,” one victim told the judge.
The accused ringleader is Christian Maire, a 40-year-old married father of two from New York who was sentenced to 40 years in prison for running an online porn operation that sexually exploited more than 100 girls nationwide, including an Oakland County girl who helped the FBI bust the scheme in 2017.
The operation started in 2012, though arrests did not occur for another five years. Indictments followed.
According to court records, here is how the ‘Bored Group’s’ enterprise worked:
Each group member had a role. The “talkers” were in charge of talking to the girls online to get them to engage with the group’s members. “Hunters” were in charge of luring the girls to unmonitored chat rooms and alerting others to let them know that the minors were there. The “loopers” intervened if a minor became suspicious of the members in a chatroom, or was reluctant to engage in sexual activity. That’s when the “loopers” intervened, coming up with creative ways to get them to stay.
For reasons unknown, the group typically included the word “bored” in the title of their chatrooms, such as justsoboared, borednstuff, and boredascanbe — hence the name “Bored Group.”
The group’s victims ranged in ages 10-17. They include a girl who was coerced into having sex with her dog, another who was encouraged to masturbate with a banana, and an elite ballet dancer who battled loneliness and anxiety and was manipulated into making more than 60 videos of herself engaged in sexual activity.
The case was prosecuted in Detroit, where Maire on Wednesday pleaded with the judge through tears for a chance to rehabilitate himself.
“I’m really so ashamed of myself and all the harm I’ve caused my victims,” Maire told U.S. District Judge Stephen Murphy, sobbing at times. “I never knew I could sink this low … but I am sick. Pornography led me down a very dark road. If I was here as a parent instead of a defendant, I would be devastated.”
Maire had three supporters speak on his behalf in court Wednesday: a Greek Orthodox priest, a family friend who is a judge in Georgia, and his father, who apologized to the victims.
“My heart goes out to the victims for the trauma my son has caused … I am truly appalled by his actions,” said the father, who described his son as a loving and doting father who used his college education to grow a fledgling company.
“We’re still struggling to understand what he did,” the father said. “He’s an addict battling an addiction. With proper counseling, he can leave prison a better man … I still love him.”
As Maire’s supporters asked for leniency, a victim in the courtroom whispered to a friend: “But they asked girls to cut themselves.”
‘I was blackmailed’
Several parents and victims attended the sentencing. Some spoke while others sat quietly as the victims told their gut-wrenching stories.
“I am a 20-year-old girl standing here today, facing the monsters that destroyed my childhood due to child exploitation,” said a New Orleans woman, who was lured into the scheme when she was 16. “The internet was my escape from depression that I didn’t know I had at the time.”
Eventually, she started making videos and joined chat rooms, where she met the predators who were pretending to be teen boys.
“I enjoyed having ‘friends’ to talk to every day. They were always there no matter what time of day,” she told the judge.
But then came the blackmail. After flirting in the chat rooms and cultivating an online friendship, one of the men recorded her on video.
“From then on, I was blackmailed into doing things I didn’t want to do. They would threaten to come to my house and hurt my family and I. They even named everyone in my house, so I knew that these threats were serious,” she said. “They would tell me to take off my clothes and touch myself in sexual ways. So, I would try to accommodate their desires because I was scared.”
She added: “Every time I would do so, they would record me and blackmail me over and over again, which turned into an intimidating and vicious cycle.”
Then came the suicide attempts.
“I started hurting myself and I was in and out of the hospital for self-harm and attempted suicide,” she said. “I know they knew I was hurting, because they would watch me cry and some would even ask me to self-harm while they watched.”
To this day, the Louisiana woman said, she can’t use a computer. “The tragic pain this has caused me still eats my soul … After all those years of hurt, I struggle with self-love, anxiety and depression.”
‘Get them help’
Another victim – a 14-year-old girl who was 10 when the men exploited her online – told the judge she “regretted 100 percent” going into the chat room. But at the time, she was young, bullied and teased at school, and she longed for friends.
“I was manipulated … they told me I was special and that they loved me,” the girl recalled. “I thought I was special but I was just pleasing these sick people … I want this to be over with. I’m tired.”
The 14-year-old’s mother also spoke in court, saying her daughter has had night terrors almost every night and struggles with normal activities and school because of the predators.
Then she briefly looked up at the eight defendants sitting side by side in court: half of them hung their heads; the others had blank expressions.
“I look at these guys here — not one of them looks like they care. They got what they wanted,” the mother said, adding her daughter “just wants a normal life.”
The mother urged the judge to give her daughter and the other victims justice, though she was merciful in her request.
“Get them help,” she said of the defendants. “They need help — as much, if not more than my daughter.”
Hundreds of victims
Prosecutors had asked for a life sentence for Maire, calling him a chronic liar and manipulator who masterminded an “egregious crime syndicate” that sexually exploited and psychologically scarred preteen and teenage girls.
“They hunted girls. They lied to girls. They manipulated girls … And they did so repeatedly for years, victimizing more than 100 girls,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Mulcahy has argued in court documents, stressing Maire, the “educated, worldly leader of the group, orchestrated it all.”
In court Wednesday, Mulcahy scoffed at Maire’s claims that he quit the child pornography ring out of shame six months before his 2017 arrest.
“It wasn’t shame and remorse, it was the fear of getting caught,” Mulcahy said, alleging Maire had been tipped off by one of his cohorts that the FBI was onto them.
According to prosecutors, Maire ran the scheme with the help of accomplices from across the country who preyed on vulnerable girls who are still struggling to cope.
“Almost all if not all of the minor victims in this case are depressed or in therapy, and several have suicidal intentions,” Assistant U.S. Attorney April Russo stated in court documents. “Some of them have attempted suicide.”
In the end, it was an Oakland County victim who helped the FBI piece the case together, triggering arrests and charges.
According to court records, the now 17-year-old Oakland County girl was tricked into posing nude on a webcam for the “Bored Group.” Among those who sexually exploited her was Maire, who had numerous explicit conversations with the girl when she was 14, records show.
The FBI interviewed the Oakland County girl in June 2017, when she told agents that she had “consistently” been in a chat room with four to five individuals whom she believed to be teenage boys. These people, she told the agents, enticed her to show them her naked body and perform sexually explicit acts while on a webcam.
After that interview, the FBI followed an electronic trail of evidence that led them to the other suspects, including Arthur Simpatico, 47, of Mississauga, Ontario, who was sentenced to 37 years in prison on Wednesday for his role. Prosecutors described him as a “callous” predator who was considered the “best of the best” at recruiting girls in the group and used his technological skills to help the group avoid detection by law enforcement.
It was Simpatico, prosecutors said, who tipped off the crew about the FBI being onto them.
In court Wednesday, Simpatico said from the lectern, handcuffed and shackled in orange jail garb: “I just want to apologize to anyone I’ve hurt. That was not my intention. I can’t take it back. I hope to be a better person in the future.”
In handing down the punishments, Judge Murphy expressed concerns about the dangerous nature of the Internet and said a message needs to be sent to online predators that their actions carry a stiff penalty.
“The amount of psychological damage done to the victims is of a very serious concern,” Murphy said. “This behavior deserves an extremely serious punishment … The Internet has obviously gotten out of control.”
Sentencing will continue Thursday.
The other defendants are:
- Jonathan Rodriguez, 37, of West Hollywood, California
- Michal Figura, 36, of Swarthmore, Pennylvania
- Odell Ortega, 37, of Virginia Gardens, Florida
- Brett Sinta, 36, of Hickory, North Carolina
- Caleb Young, 38, of Olmsted Falls, Ohio
- Daniel Walton, 34, of Saginaw, Texas
- William T. Phillips, 39, of Highland, New York
Tresa Baldas: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Tbaldas