A man who blackmailed two teenage girls into producing and sending him child pornography has been jailed for 11 years.
Cahlii Smith, 30, was sentenced yesterday in the first blackmail case in Bermuda to involve child sexual abuse.
Smith, from St George’s, was convicted on July 4 last year of a string of charges, including extortion, making child pornography, accessing child pornography and distributing child pornography.
The court heard that both victims met Smith through a shared passion for music and looked up to him as a trusted adult.
The girls said that someone contacted them both over Facebook and claimed to be a hacker who had stolen intimate photographs of them through their phones.
They said that the man demanded they send pornographic images and videos of themselves to him or else he would leak the images he had.
The victims said that they caved to his demands but cut communication with him after several months, only to have the content leaked over social media.
Both girls were under the age of 16 at the time.
During the criminal investigation, police seized a laptop linked to Smith, which contained several of the pornographic videos and photos, as well as personal photos of Smith and a recording of a Skype call between him and one of the victims.
Smith argued during the trial that he was not involved in the scheme and only used the laptop to charge his iPod after its password was changed in 2011.
Assistant Justice Mark Pettingill described the argument yesterday as “nonsensical” with nothing to back up his claims.
He added: “It is noted that the defendant had a poor attitude towards the offences and indeed continued to express his innocence and put forward his defences, which were rejected unequivocally by the jury at the end of the trial.
“He did express empathy for the victims who suffered some horrible things but this is hardly mitigating as he fails to take responsibility for any of it.”
Mr Justice Pettingill went on to describe the situation as “any caring parent’s worst nightmare”. He added that “social media used in this regard is a troubling thing”.
He said: “This is truly disconcerting to the public and is reflective of the dangers of the unsupervised use of social media by children and the ability of criminals to use false accounts and pseudonyms to hide from detection.”
Mr Justice Pettingill said that the use of the internet and social media to perpetrate the offences played a major role in his sentencing.
He also pointed to Smith’s closeness to the victims and their trust in him.
He said: “The defendant exploited the relationship he had as a mentor to the young girls who had dreams of music careers and a large part were under his direct stewardship.
“Clearly the relationship was such as that they believed the defendant would potentially assist them, when in fact we was the director and producer of the whole sordid affair that the jury clearly felt sure of on the evidence.”
Mr Justice Pettingill pointed out the length of time it took to prosecute Smith, noting that the entire process took about eight years to reach a trial.
While he noted that the Covid-19 pandemic did affect the process, Mr Pettingill added that it was still “unsatisfactory”.
After the verdict, both victims and their families shared hugs and words of comfort outside of the courtroom.
One of the victims, now a young woman, said: “It was a just verdict for a vile and disgusting crime that traumatised two young girls who once looked up to this man.
“We could not have been nearly as successful as we were without [prosecutors] Adley Duncan and Matthew Frick.”
She said that the key to assisting victims of sex assault, particularly young victims, was transparency.
She explained: “We as victims felt more comfortable bringing our discomfort to our parents but it was difficult for us because, in our eyes, Cahlii was a trusted adult.”
The woman also encouraged those who knew of children suffering sexual abuse to contact Saving Children and Revealing Secrets.
One mother said: “I hope this experience encourages other girls and other mothers to step forward.
“They’re not alone.”
The father of one of the victims said that he hoped both girls were able to find solace and overcome their trauma.
He added: “There’s been a lot of cases like this lately and they all seem to take a long time to come to some sort of resolution.
“In this day and age and in this society it’s unacceptable and as an island we must do better to protect our own.
“This was ten years; that’s a long time to carry something.
“Even though we got to this point and some resolution has been made, ten years is not good enough.
“We must do better; we have to do better.”