'Sextortionist' Collins sentenced to prison

John Christensen
The Chronicle Express

PENN YAN – The convicted online "sextortionist," Jameel Collins, 26, of Buffalo, appeared in Yates County Criminal Court Tuesday, Sept. 28 for sentencing on two counts of promoting a sexual performance by a child (class D felony).

Yates County Courthouse

In exchange for Collins' guilty plea, Judge Jason Cook delivered his promised indeterminate sentence of 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison on each charge, served concurrently. He must also pay a mandatory state surcharge, DNA registry fee, sex offender registry fee, and sex offender victim fee; in all, totaling $1,425. Cook also issued court orders of protection for Collins' three victims.

The New York State Police and FBI investigated the online "sextortion" scam targeting students in at least two Yates County school systems in December 2018 resulted in the arrest of Collins May 1 on a Superior Court warrant for three counts of Promoting a Sexual Performance by a Child (class D violent felonies) and three counts of Endangering the Welfare of a Child. 

In his court allocution, Collins admitted he used the SnapChat social media platform to coerce two Yates County girls to send him images and videos that included sexual conduct. According to the Penn Yan Central School District, the online predator created numerous fake social media accounts, befriended students online, and used those relationships to coax the kids into sharing personal information and private photos. Then he used the information to blackmail the students into sharing additional explicit photographs and details under threat that the pictures and details already shared would be made public.

Before Collins was sentenced, one of his victims, now 16, and her mother made statements to the court. The girl spoke of her fear and shame from knowing her naked pictures were out on the internet. The depression Collins caused her drove her to attempt suicide by overdosing on prescription medications. Her mother also spoke of that night in the emergency room and that no degree of justice will ever make their family the same.

Collins himself said he deeply regrets and deeply apologizes to these young girls, to their families, and to his own family for the shame he caused. "I can't say how sorry I am for putting this on all your families," he said.

Judge Cook said, "No sentence this court can pass can undo the lifelong damage, trauma, and suffering you caused. They have been scarred for the rest of their lives because you victimized children for your perverse pleasure."

The investigation was initiated by Penn Yan School Resource Officer Jeff Stewart of the Penn Yan Police Department, and completed by the State Police and the FBI Child Exploitation Task Force, in conjunction with the Yates County District Attorney’s Office. 

District Attorney Todd Casella said he made the two-count offer because one of the four victims was found to be over the age of 17 and another did not wish to cooperate with the investigation. Casella later stated that he believes Collins used the girls’ photos for profit as well as his own sexual gratification.

Collins' co-defendant, Jamel Werts, remains at large as do six others Casella says are connected to the case.