Ex-BYU student sentenced to 1 year in sex extortion case

A former BYU student was sentenced to a year in prison on Wednesday after pleading guilty to threatening a teenage girl to release nude photos to convince her to send him more. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

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PROVO — A former BYU student was sentenced Wednesday to spend nearly a year in prison after pleading guilty to threatening a teenage girl to release nude photos in order to convince her to send more pictures.

Benjamin Christopher Shields, 21, from Maryland and currently living in Provo and attending another university, was arrested while on the BYU campus while a student at the school.

Initially, Shields was charged with three counts of aggravated sexual extortion of a child, a first-degree felony; aggravated sexual extortion and sexual exploitation of a minor, second degree crimes. He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of sexual extortion, a third-degree felony, as part of a plea deal and the other charges were dismissed.

Shields was accused of asking several teenage girls and young girls he met on the internet for nude photos. A 16-year-old girl said he offered her $46,000 for an explicit video chat and $50 or $100 for nude photos, according to billing documents. She said Shields didn’t pay after sending photos, but threatened to post the photos if she didn’t send more.

After looking at Shields’ phone, police said they found multiple Snapchat accounts where he offered money to young girls for explicit acts or photos, and continued to talk to one girl after she told him. says she was only 11 years old.

Shields apologized for his actions during the hearing.

“I know what I did was horrible, and I wish I could take it all back. … I know no one deserved the treatment they got from me and that my behavior is inexcusable. I took all the possible steps to make sure it never happens again, and I promise them and everyone here that nothing like this will ever happen again,” he said.

Shields’ attorney, Spencer “Benny” Salcido, said Shields suffered from mental health issues, social isolation due to the pandemic and a cancer diagnosis for his mother, although he said that none of this is an excuse for his actions. He said his client engaged in this crime because of anonymity and made the mistake of not seeing the victim as a person.

“There are a lot of things that he sacrificed and destroyed, not only in his life but also in the life of the victim,” Salcido said.

He said Shields took responsibility and agreed to recommend to the court that he spend 364 days in jail.

The victim and his family were not present at the hearing, but the prosecutor said they had reviewed and accepted the plea agreement.

On top of a year in jail, 4th District Judge Robert Lunnen sentenced Shields to 36 months probation and told him to have no contact with the victim, perform a psychosexual evaluation and comply specific conditions for sex offenders. He also ordered Shields to write a letter to the victim, which he said could reach the victim if his parents decide to pass it on, but is meant to be part of Shields’ healing process.

“Sometimes we easily forget how our behavior affects others and how it can continue to affect them for years to come,” Lunnen said.

Shield’s mother attended the virtual hearing with her son, and Lunnen said he was happy to see she was there.

“If more men and women had mothers who supported them in whatever they did and tried to help them correct their behavior, we probably wouldn’t have all the crimes we commit. I guess they would be reduced half or more,” the judge said.

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Emily Ashcraft joined KSL.com as a reporter in 2021. She covers court and legal affairs, as well as health, faith and religion news.

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