Sunday 16 December 2018

Man (22) who 'catfished' teenage boys into sharing explicit pictures of themselves to be sentenced for possessing child porn

Ben Mooney (22) pictured at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court
Pic Collins Courts
Ben Mooney (22) pictured at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court Pic Collins Courts

Aoife Nic Ardghail

A young Dublin man who engaged in “catfishing” to lure teenage boys into sharing explicit images of themselves online will be sentenced early next year.

Garda Daniel Tracey revealed that Ben Mooney (22) used the name “Nicole Heffernon” to email and contact teenage boys through Facebook.

Gda Tracey explained that Mooney had been “catfishing”, which is pretending to be someone else online, to obtain images of boys in their underwear and naked. The garda said there were also videos of the teenagers masturbating.

Mooney later told gardaí that he had contacted up to 15 teenage boys in the two years before he was caught.

Mooney, of Rathsallagh Park, Shankill, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to knowingly possessing child porn and possessing 4,000 images and 300 videos of child porn on a Samsung mobile phone at his home on January 5, 2016. He has no previous convictions.

Gda Tracey told Genevieve Coonan BL, prosecuting, the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children in America contacted gardaí about two email addresses sharing child porn.

One of these email addresses was in the name Nicole Heffernon and the other belonged to a 16-year-old boy.

During the investigation, gardaí spoke with this boy, along with two other males aged 16 and 15 years. They told officers that a person pretending to be a 16-year-old girl had contacted them through Facebook and had been sending them explicit material.

Gda Tracey said the IP address for the Nicole Heffernon email led back to Mooney's home. He and colleagues got a search warrant for the premises, where Mooney and his parents were present.

Mooney asked his parents to leave him with gardaí and then admitted he had contacted up to 15 teenage boys over the last two years.

Gda Tracey said Mooney gave officers a number of emails, with which he had communicated with other suspected paedophiles through a Russian website. Gardaí also seized two mobile phones and a computer hard drive during the search.

Gda Tracey told Ms Coonan that 70 per cent of the 6,000 images on the phones was a mixture of pornography and child pornography. He said the child porn images fell onto the lower two levels of the scale and consisted of children posing erotically, solo masturbation and sexual activity between minors.

He said a “huge percentage” of the material involved young males between ten to 16 years old.

Gda Tracey agreed with Seán Guerin SC, defending, that Mooney made full admissions before forensic analysis had been done on the computer hard drive. He accepted that Mooney had been 19 years old at the time and that he had been struggling with his sexuality.

He further agreed that Mooney seems to have turned his life around, noting that he was “staying up all night playing computer games and sleeping all day” at the time.

Judge Melanie Greally ordered a report from The Probation Service and adjourned the sentence to January, when she will hear a plea in mitigation from Mr Guerin.

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