SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A former Cassville High School teacher was sentenced this week for a scheme in which dozens of child victims were coerced into sending him pornographic images and videos.
Brandon Lane McCullough, 33, of Branson, was sentenced Tuesday by U.S. District Judge M. Douglas Harpool to 30 years in federal prison without parole. McCullough also must spend the rest of his life after incarceration on supervised release and pay $204,199 in restitution to one of his victims, according to a news release from the U.S. attorney’s office for the Western District of Missouri.
“This defendant, a high school teacher, pretended to be a teenager online in order to prey upon young victims across the country,” said U.S. Attorney Teresa Moore in a statement. “He victimized 11 children who have been identified, and many more who have not yet been identified, in a horrific sexploitation scheme. He enticed countless child victims to send him explicit images of themselves, then threatened to share those images with their families and friends over social media unless they continued to send him even more explicit images and videos. Such appalling criminal behavior warrants the severe penalty he received today.”
McCullough, formerly a business teacher at Cassville High School, pleaded guilty in August 2021 to three counts of the sexual exploitation of a minor and two counts of coercing and enticing a minor to engage in illicit sexual activity.
Federal investigators began looking at the case in February 2020, when the mother of a 14-year-old victim in New Jersey reported to her local police department that her daughter was using the Kik app to have sexually explicit conversations with and send sexually explicit images to McCullough, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
McCullough pretended he was 15 when he began chatting with the victim, called Jane Doe 1 in the news release, via Kik in May 2019. He threatened to send the sexually explicit images and videos to her family and friends unless she sent additional images and videos, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
The victim also was part of a Kik conversation with another user, which in fact was McCullough pretending to be 17, the office said. When she told this second persona that she was being blackmailed, he told her to continue meeting the blackmailer’s demands.
Law enforcement officers searched McCullough’s home in May 2020 and seized an external hard drive that was hidden under a basket under a bathroom sink in the basement. The hard drive contained dozens of Kik folders, which held chats and thousands of images and videos of child pornography that were produced by the child victims, according to the news release.
Investigators have identified 11 child victims, with dozens more unable to be identified as yet; all were victims of the same pattern of being asked for sexually explicit materials and then blackmailed for more, the release said. The U.S. attorney’s office said McCullough began this sextortion scheme with his victims as early as November 2018.