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Arrest made in ‘sextortion’ case police link to teen’s suicide

By Josh Campbell, CNN

Police in California have arrested a suspect in connection with an alleged online scam authorities said led to the suicide death of a 17-year-old boy in February.

Jonathan Kassi, 25, was arrested Thursday by Los Angeles police officers on an arrest warrant, the San Jose Police Department announced Monday.

The warrant was obtained by the San Jose Crimes Against Children Task Force, which was investigating a West African financial extortion scheme, authorities said.

Kassi was transferred from Los Angeles to Northern California and “booked for extortion and attempted disorderly conduct — posting of a photograph or recording without consent,” San Jose police said.

CNN is attempting to determine if Kassi has an attorney.

Earlier this year, CNN reported on the suicide death of Ryan Last, who police said was the target of an online scam known as “sextortion.”

Ryan’s mother, Pauline Stuart, said police determined her son was contacted online by someone purporting to be a girl, who engaged in an online conversation which quickly turned intimate in nature.

According to authorities, the online perpetrator sent Ryan a romantic picture of a young female and asked for one of him in return. Immediately after Ryan shared an intimate photo of his own, the cybercriminal demanded $5,000, threatening to make the photo public and send it to Ryan’s family and friends, investigators said. Hours later, police said, a panicked Ryan took his own life.

Although San Jose police withheld Ryan’s name as the minor victim in the case in its announcement of the arrest Monday, Stuart confirmed to CNN the arrest was in connection with her son’s death.

“I am truly disgusted that there are people that can do this to kids, but I am also grateful for all the work that law enforcement has done on this case,” she told CNN Monday evening. “They truly care what happens and have worked hard investigating. I believe that to continue to fight these type of scams we need to educate parents and kids alike.”

According to San Jose police, Kassi allegedly exploited children online through using various social media platforms.

“Detectives believe there could be additional victims due to the suspect’s criminal pattern and use of social media to target minors,” police said, urging anyone with information about the scams to call investigators. Authorities did not provide further details on potential co-conspirators.

Authorities announced the suspect’s arrest on the same day the FBI and Department of Homeland Security issued a public safety alert warning parents about the dangers of sextortion schemes.

There have been more than 7,000 reports related to online financial sextortion of minors, resulting in at least 3,000 victims, mostly boys, and more than a dozen suicides, the alert said.

“As many children enter winter break this holiday season, the FBI and our partners implore parents and caregivers to engage with their kids about financial sextortion schemes so we can prevent them in the first place,” the FBI said Monday.

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