(STL.News) – A southern Missouri high school teacher has been charged in federal court with the sexual exploitation of a minor after he blackmailed a 14-year-old victim in New Jersey to force her to send him sexually explicit photos and videos.
Brandon Lane McCullough, 31, of Branson, Missouri, was charged in a criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Springfield, Missouri, on Thursday, May 7. McCullough, formerly a business teacher at Cassville High School, had accepted a position at Hollister High School for next year.
According to an affidavit filed in support of the federal criminal complaint, McCullough originally portrayed himself as a 15-year-old boy when he began chatting via Kik with the child victim, identified in court documents as Jane Doe, in May 2019.
McCullough allegedly threatened to send the sexually explicit images and videos to the victim’s family and friends. McCullough became more aggressive, the affidavit says, demanding additional images and videos. Jane Doe repeatedly pleaded with McCullough to stop, according to the affidavit, telling him “can you please (just) leave me alone now,” and “can you just stop” and “I … don’t wanna do that.” McCullough allegedly threatened to “post everything.”
McCullough allegedly continued to coerce the victim and demanded images and videos of her engaged in sexual acts with other people. Jane Doe told McCullough she was considering killing herself. She told McCullough that she had taken half a bottle of her mother’s pills.
Jane Doe also engaged in a Kik conversation with another user, who was actually McCullough portraying himself as a 17-year-old boy. When Jane Doe told this false persona that she was being blackmailed, the affidavit says, he told her to continue meeting his demands.
The federal investigation began on Feb. 14, 2020, when a police detective in New Jersey contacted federal agents in Missouri. On May 7, 2020, law enforcement officers executed a search warrant at McCullough’s residence. They seized an external hard drive that was concealed beneath a basket under a bathroom sink in the basement. According to the affidavit, the hard drive contained dozens of Kik folders, which contained chats as well as images and videos of child pornography that were self-produced by the child victims. McCullough told officers he could not recall how many minors he had chatted with or how often he had done it, because he was engaging in the conduct so frequently.
The charge contained in this complaint is simply an accusation, and not evidence of guilt. Evidence supporting the charge must be presented to a federal trial jury, whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ami Harshad Miller. It was investigated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Southwest Missouri Cyber Crimes Task Force, and the Florham Park Borough, New Jersey, Police Department.
Project Safe Childhood
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims.