Teen sextortion victim foils middle school coach’s scheme, uncovers identity: docs

Harris Marley
Harris Marley

Global Courant

WARNING: GRAPHIC

A middle school basketball coach ran a sextortion scam that included at least four underage girls and spanned almost three years, but he crossed the wrong teen who exposed him. 

Now, he is going to serve a 30-year sentence in a federal prison. 

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Joshua Rico, 27, created fictitious social media profiles under the names “Chris Lujan” and “Erik Romero,” as well as a profile under his own name, to “threaten, coerce and manipulate” his victims to “engage in sexual activity with him,” Rico admitted in his plea deal.

“Generally speaking, my scheme was to use my personal Snapchat account, as well as accounts I created in order to pose as fictitious males, to obtain sexually explicit images and videos from the minors. Further, I also used this scheme to convince at least one minor to engage in sexual activity with me,” Rico wrote in court documents as part of his plea agreement.

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Joshua Rico was a middle school basketball coach in New Mexico, where he ran a yearslong sextortion scam. (New Mexico State Police)

He admitted to receiving nude photos and videos and coercing the victims to meet in person to “engage in sexual acts,” he wrote in his admittance of facts, which was reviewed by Fox News Digital.

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His “unchecked” scheme quickly unraveled when “Jane Doe 2” pieced together that Rico and “Erik Romero” were the same person and reported the issue to school officials and the New Mexico State Police.

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Law enforcement and federal prosecutors confirmed her suspicions. Rico was indicted on May 12, 2021, and agreed to a plea deal by December 2022.

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“Jane Doe 2” wrote a powerful-but-heartbreaking victim impact statement that described how her zest for life deteriorated to rapid withdrawal.

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“I hated every night from that day forward. I would cry myself to sleep because of the disgust I felt towards myself,” she said in the sentencing memorandum. 

“Most days I didn’t come out of my room because I felt my parents would see right through me and would be disappointed. The longer time went on, the more scared I got.”

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She said this “sick relationship affected every area of my life.” 

“I used to like to participate in class, but stopped doing it, and I lost my passion for being involved,” she wrote. 

“I would zone out in class and would think about how awful it would be when I got home. I stopped hanging out with my friends and I distanced myself from friends and family because I didn’t want people to find out what was going on.”

READ FULL SENTENCING MEMORANDUM

Rico’s ‘unchecked’ scheme

Rico’s criminal acts built on each other.

For example, Rico – posing as “Chris Lujan” – admitted to threatening to publish his first victim’s explicit photos if she did not record herself having sex with someone else and sending it to “Chris,” according to court documents. 

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“‘Chris’ exploited sexual favors and demanded more sexually explicit material. The threats from ‘Chris’ escalated over time, causing Jane Doe 1 significant distress,” prosecutors said in court documents.

He then used his real name to portray himself as some sort of savior or protector, which experts told Fox News Digital in previous interviews is a common tactic in sextortion scams. 

Court documents included a snippet of messages between Rico and the first victim, showing how he tried to gain her trust.

Joshua Rico’s text interaction with one his four victims of a sextortion scam while he was a New Mexico middle school basketball coach. (U.S. Attorney’s Office District of New Mexico)

On May 24, 2019, joshuarico2196 messaged “Jane Doe 1,” “Hey the guy that’s been harassing you is Chris Lujan right? I can only assume because he put that pic of you on his story”

Jane Doe 1: “Maybe why”

joshuarico2196: “Because I helped interview a guy with the same name today, and I’m wondering if it’s him”

Jane Doe 1: “I don’t know”

joshuarico2196: “Well if it’s him it’s possible I could help stop him from harassing you”

Findings from a survey of 1,631 victims, by the Crimes Against Children Research Centre and Thorn, show the issue continues to grow into a bigger issue as technology, especially artificial intelligence, becomes more sophisticated. (Crimes Against Children Research Centre and Thorn)

He repeated this pattern of deception and coercion with three more girls – all between 14 and 16 – whom he targeted while he was employed as the middle school boys basketball coach at the Pecos Independent School District in San Miguel County, New Mexico. 

Alexander M.M. Uballez, federal prosecutor of New Mexico, said after Rico was sentenced that this case “should send a message to would-be predators, especially those who work in positions of trust with children, that sextortion is a heinous crime that will be punished with decades in prison.” 

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“Our mission is clear: to protect the innocent, to uphold the rule of law, and to ensure that those who engage in such malicious activities face the consequences of their actions,” Uballez said in a statement.

“Together with our law enforcement partners, we will continue to safeguard our children, schools, neighborhoods and communities. We call upon everyone to be vigilant regarding the online activity of our children and report any suspicious or concerning conduct. The safety of our children is a shared responsibility, and we must work hand-in-hand to maintain their wellbeing – whether at school, in the community, or on the internet.”

A 2022 film called “Sextortion” describes the crime as “the hidden pandemic.” (AURORIS MEDIA)

Upon his release from prison, Rico will be required to register as a sex offender and serve a 20-year term of supervised release.

The New Mexico State Police, the FBI and the Regional Computer Forensic Laboratory investigated this case as part of the New Mexico Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force. The ICAC Task Force Program is a nationwide network of task forces, including over 90 federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies in New Mexico dedicated to investigating, prosecuting and developing effective responses to Internet crimes against children.

What is sextortion?

The FBI describes sextortion as a crime that “involves coercing victims into providing sexually explicit photos or videos of themselves, then threatening to share them publicly or with the victim’s family and friends.”

“Malicious actors use content manipulation technologies and services to exploit photos and videos – typically captured from an individual’s social media account, open internet or requested from the victim – into sexually-themed images that appear true-to-life in likeness to a victim, then circulate them on social media, public forums or pornographic websites,” the FBI said in a June 5 PSA.

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“Many victims, which have included minors, are unaware their images were copied, manipulated and circulated until it was brought to their attention by someone else.”

At least a dozen sextortion-related suicides have been reported across the country, according to the latest FBI numbers from this year.

Many victims are males between the ages of 10 and 17, although there have been victims as young as 7, the FBI said. Girls have also been targeted, but the statistics show a higher number of boys have been victimized. 

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Find help navigating ‘scary situation’

Michelle DeLaune, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), said in a previous statement that young victims of this crime “feel like there’s no way out.”

“But we want them to know that they’re not alone. In the past year, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has received more than 10,000 sextortion-related reports,” DeLaune said this year. “Please talk to your children about what to do if they (or their friends) are targeted online. NCMEC has free resources to help them navigate an overwhelming and scary situation.”

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NCMEC also provides a free service called “Take It Down,” which works to help victims remove or stop the online sharing of sexually explicit images or videos.

The website is: https://takeitdown.ncmec.org/.

The FBI provides recommendations for sharing content online as well as resources for extortion victims at https://www.ic3.gov/Media/Y2023/PSA230605/.

The FBI also urges victims to report exploitation by calling the local FBI field office, calling 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324) or report it online at tips.fbi.gov/.

Chris Eberhart is a crime and US news reporter for Fox News Digital. Email tips to [email protected] or on Twitter @ChrisEberhart48.

Teen sextortion victim foils middle school coach’s scheme, uncovers identity: docs

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