A Brentwood man who adopted a woman's online identity and then used it to trick her and other women -- including some in their mid-teens -- into sending him explicit photos of themselves was sentenced today to 20 years in prison.
"When I was committing my offense, I couldn't understand why I was doing what I was doing," said Russell Freed, 44, a former Turnpike engineer, at his 3 1/2-hour sentencing hearing. "Am I crazy? Am I evil? What is it?"
He said he has learned that it was a mental condition.
U.S. District Judge Terrence F. McVerry told him his conduct was "deeply disturbing," especially how he treated the original victim. She was around 21 years old in 2010 and 2011 when an anonymous person began demanding sexual pictures of her, and threatening to release compromising photos if she did not comply.
The woman "was totally unaware" who was extorting her, said Judge McVerry. When she confided in Mr. Freed that the extortion was driving her to consider suicide, Mr. Freed advised her to comply with the demands, the judge said.
Mr. Freed's crimes began when he found the woman's cell phone, with which she had taken compromising pictures of herself, and began using the images and her contact list to reach out to others. Using a prepaid phone, a Facebook page and two email accounts, he pretended to be her and built a steadily larger network that eventually reached young women and men around age 15.
He traded photos with them, and when young women wouldn't give him more revealing images, he threatened to share those he had with their friends and family. On some occasions, he made good on that threat.
Caught by the FBI, he was charged with, and pleaded guilty to, seven counts of producing, attempting to produce, distributing, receiving and possessing child pornography.
"I can't believe that I'm in a courtroom apologizing for Russ," said his mother, Nancy Freed. "He is a good person and we have always been proud of him.
"To sacrifice the life of a good man and his family just to make an example out of him is unbelievable."
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Judge McVerry could have sentenced Freed to life in prison, but said he thought that was excessive.
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1542.