SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – A man from Illinois was charged in U.S. District Court in Springfield Thursday, accused of exploiting boys he met through online video games, and then threatening them if they refused to send nude photos.
31-year-old Zack Sawyer was charged on two counts of sexual exploitation of children. The new federal charges come a year and a half after he was charged at Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton in connection with the case.
Prosecutors allege Sawyer used online interactive video games including X-Box Live games and MineCraft to communicate with at least eight boys, ages 10 to 13, in Massachusetts, Illinois, and Virginia.
In March 2010, Sawyer allegedly used X-Box Live to contact 12 year-old boys from Roselle, Ill. According to a news release sent to 22News by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Sawyer asked one boy to send him nude photographs and the addresses and phone numbers of the boy’s friend. He then used this number in sexually explicit chats. When the friend blocked Sawyer on X-Box Live, Sawyer responded with a death threat.
Two months later, prosecutors say Sawyer used X-Box Live to contact two 13 year-old boys in Hampshire County. Sawyer allegedly asked one boy to send him nude photographs, and when the boy refused, Sawyer threatened to rape and kill him. When the second boy refused, Sawyer allegedly also threatened to rape him and claimed he had a drug that would paralyze people.
This incident forms the basis of the current charges.
A news release states that in August 2010, Sawyer used X-box Live to contact a 12-year old boy in Rockton, Ill. When the boy refused to give Sawyer naked pictures or his address, Sawyer threatened him by saying, “I don’t wanna have to do anything bad.”
In January 2011, prosecutors say Sawyer allegedly used X-Box Live to contact two 13 year-old boys from Lockport, Ill. He allegedly engaged both boys in sexually explicit conversations and threatened to kill them and their families if they told anyone about their interactions.
According to a news release, in early August 2014, Sawyer used MineCraft to contact a 10 year-old boy in Loudon County, Va. This after Sawyer had been notified that he was the subject of a Massachusetts arrest warrant based on his solicitation of the two Hampshire County boys. Sawyer allegedly sent the boy a picture of his penis, and asked the boy to send a similar photograph back to Sawyer.
On two occassions, prosecutors say the boy used Skype with Sawyer to show him his genitals. In one online chat, Sawyer admitted to the boy that he was a “truck driver on the run from the cops.” He was arrested on December 23, 2014.
If found guilty, Sawyer could be sentenced to a minimum of 15 years or maximum of 30 years in prison, a minimum of five years and maximum of a lifetime of supervised release, a fine of $250,000 and restitution.