Judge orders 42-year term for Iowa child predator
CEDAR RAPIDS (AP) — A judge sentenced a former Iowa college student to 42 years in prison Thursday for enticing girls across the country to send him sexually explicit photos and then using the images for extortion, in one case forcing a girl to have sex with him.
U.S. District Judge Linda Reade said Lucas Robinson, 24, of Cedar Rapids, was a "serial predator against children" who deserved the maximum sentence she could give. She said he met the victims — at least 12 girls from Iowa and other states between ages 12 and 15 — through social media sites and coerced them into sending him graphic photos and videos of themselves on their cellphones. He posed as a teenager himself, telling them he was 15.
Robinson then threatened to release the images publicly to their classmates, friends and family if they did not do what he asked, forcing them to make more sexually explicit images that included inserting objects into various body parts, Reade said. The girls begged for him not to release the images but he persisted, extorting one Iowa girl into having sex with him. His repeated threats to release the images caused another to threaten to commit suicide in a chilling text message conversation that Reade read in court.
"You send them and I'll kill myself," the girl texted to Robinson. "Then do what I say and I won't," he responded. The girl replied: "OK."
"This conduct was sick stuff," Reade said. "I am not going to describe everything he did and persuaded these young girls to do out of respect for the victims."
Cedar Rapids Police investigators said they started looking into Robinson, a student at Mount Mercy in Cedar Rapids at the time, after one of the girls reported he had sexually abused her last year. Search warrants for his apartment, computer and cellphone yielded a trail of electronic evidence showing he had extorted minors from Alaska to Kentucky to New Jersey.
"We had one victim come forward and it snowballed from there," investigator Corey Peiffer said at a news conference after the sentencing. "It just exploded."
Robinson, who has been in custody since his indictment and arrest last fall, pleaded guilty in February to sexual exploitation of children, possession of child pornography and extortion. In a statement at the sentencing, he said he understood what his victims were going through as a childhood molestation victim himself and wanted to apologize for "my reckless actions and destructive decisions."
"I feel their pain," he said.
His attorney, public defender John Lane, asked Reade to depart from the recommended 42-year sentence, the maximum the charges carried, and issue a lower sentence because of Robinson's relatively young age. He said his client was an "undersocialized" 20-year-old when he started committing the offenses shortly after he moved out of his parents' house and got his own apartment.
Reade said friends and family members of Robinson had also written her a stack of letters asking for leniency, describing him as a loving and caring person who was a regular churchgoer. She said that may be true, but the "criminal conduct in this case exposed an entirely different reality."
"This is not someone who used bad judgment," she said. "This is a serial predator against children. He is a very dangerous individual. He deserves the highest sentence the court can give."
U.S. Attorney Sean Berry told reporters the case shows the dangers of social media, and urged children and parents to protect themselves online this summer.
"It's an important case because we brought an internet predator to 42 years of justice," he said. But he warned, "There are hundreds and hundreds of Lucas Robinsons online right now looking for children to exploit. Parents have to be smarter in watching what their kids are doing, and kids have to be smarter."