Officials believe Martinez man’s victims may number in the hundreds
MARTINEZ, Calif. – Blake Robert Johnston was sentenced to 30 years in prison late Tuesday, and ordered to serve a lifetime on supervised release, for traveling across state lines with the intent to engage in sexual acts with a minor, announced United States Attorney Brian Stretch and Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Ryan L. Spradlin.
Johnston pleaded guilty on Dec. 1, 2015, to violating 18 U.S.C. § 2423(b), travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor. According to the plea agreement, Johnston admitted to flying to Oregon for the purpose of engaging in a sexual act with a 14-year-old victim. Johnston also admitted that, approximately a week later, he drove to Oregon, picked up the victim, drove her to California, and engaged in sexual acts with her at his home in Martinez.
Johnston, age 42, of Martinez, was indicted by a federal grand jury on April 2, 2015. He was charged with: travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor; transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity; online enticement of a minor, production of child pornography (two counts with different victims); possession of child pornography; and distribution of child pornography.
According to the criminal complaint, this investigation began in October of 2014, when the first identified victim’s mother called police in Salem, Oregon, to report that her 14-year-old daughter was missing. Based on mobile phone records and the victim’s computer history, Salem police were able to determine the probable location of the victim and the identity of the suspect. Within 24 hours of the victim’s disappearance, Martinez police found the missing girl in Johnston’s bed. According to a status conference update filed by the government, a hard drive seized from Johnston’s bedroom contained approximately 500 folders labeled with different females’ names. The majority of those 500 folders each appear to contain images and/or videos of child pornography no law enforcement investigators had previously encountered.
At the time the government’s sentencing memorandum was filed, investigators identified 94 minor victims, from at least 30 states and six countries, whom Johnston enticed into creating child pornography or sexually exploited online. Investigators confirmed that four minor victims met with Johnston and engaged in illicit sexual activity with him. In Johnston’s communications with underage victims, he encouraged the girls to commit harmful and violent acts such as cutting themselves, penetrating their bodies with foreign objects, strangulation, and drug abuse.
“Blake Johnston sexually exploited an untold number of children to satisfy his demented fantasies,” said U.S. Attorney Brian J. Stretch. “Today, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison, a just sentence we can only hope provides some measure of closure to the victims and their families who had to endure Johnston’s torment. This office remains vigilant, ready to prosecute child predators who troll the Internet targeting the most vulnerable among us.”
“A cyber monster’s perverse desires often turn into physical victimization and a child’s worst nightmare,” said Ryan L. Spradlin, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent in Charge. “While we are satisfied with the 30 year sentence for the horrific crimes committed, we must remember the young victims who are left with permanent psychological, physical and emotional scars. HSI works tirelessly with our law enforcement partners to seek out and bring to justice those who mercilessly exploit children.”
During the sentencing hearing before the Hon. Jeffrey S. White, U.S. District Judge, some of the victims and their parents testified about the impact of Johnston’s actions. One of the victims, who was between 13 and 14 years old at the time of the offenses, told Johnston during the sentencing hearing, “You took away my childhood. You took me away from my family. You killed who I could have been. But I am free now, free to live without fears.”
Another minor victim told the judge that “In November of 2014, when Homeland Security contacted me … when I found out the nature of the situation, I was sick to my stomach. Telling my mother broke her heart because she had no idea whatsoever of what was going on.”
Two mothers of victims said that they had no idea what was going on with their daughters until Homeland Security agents showed up at their door. One mother of a teenage victim told the judge that her family and her daughter have been dealing with nightmares almost every night.
In handing down the sentence, Judge White described Johnston’s conduct as “unusually heinous … cruel, degrading and completely inhumane to other individuals, and it is a sad day for our society when people engage in the kind of behavior that the defendant [did].” Judge White said that Johnston “preyed upon [the child victims’] low self-esteem” and used “extreme cunning, guile, intelligence, strategies, and a lot of thought and a lot of skill.” Judge White said that, in all of his years as a judge, the “Court has never seen … such serious, heinous behavior.”
Judge White sentenced the defendant to a lifetime period of supervised release, and ordered no contact with victims or minors without the permission of his probation officer.
Johnston must register as a sexual offender as required by state law. Full restitution to the victims of defendant’s crimes will be ordered, and the Court will determine the final restitution amounts on June 28, 2016. The defendant has been detained since his arrest, so he will immediately begin serving his sentence.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Maureen Bessette and Christina McCall are prosecuting the case with the assistance of Vanessa Vargas Quant, Melissa Dorton, and Patty Lau. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by: Homeland Security Investigation’s Cyber Crimes Child Exploitation Group; Martinez Police Department; Salem Police Department in Oregon; the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office; the Malaysia Royal Police; numerous law enforcement agencies in the United Kingdom; the Irish Garda; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; and the Australian Federal Police.
Investigators believe there may be hundreds of other victims not yet identified. Therefore, anyone with information related to this case is urged to call HSI’s national toll-free tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE (1-866-347-2423), or the Martinez Police Department’s tip line at (925) 372–3457.