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Originally published Friday, May 4, 2012 at 1:09 PM

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JBLM soldier accused of soliciting nude images from teen girls online

Suspected of blackmail and child pornography, a 24-year-old soldier now serving in Afghanistan is under investigation by the State Patrol over his online activities.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier is under investigation for using Facebook to allegedly solicit photos and videos of 10 Pierce County teenage girls in various stages of undress, then threatening to blackmail the girls if they didn't send more images.

The 24-year-old soldier, who has not been identified by law-enforcement officials, allegedly began his activities some 10 months ago while stationed at Lewis-McChord and continued them in Afghanistan, where he is currently deployed.

The soldier allegedly released some of the images online. The investigation, headed by the Washington State Patrol Missing and Exploited Children's Task Force, is focused on distribution of child pornography, blackmail and extortion, said Lt. Ron Mead of the State Patrol.

"The investigation is still early, and we literally have dozens of interviews yet to do," said Mead, a detective. "But at this point, there is nothing to indicate that there is more than this one soldier who is involved."

In Afghanistan, the Army Criminal Investigation Command has seized the suspect's computer, and he has been detained.

This is more unwelcome news for Lewis-McChord, a base that has been stung during the past six months by a string of widely publicized misconduct cases. Those include the inside-the-base theft of more than $600,000 in sensitive military equipment, the arrest of a lieutenant colonel for threatening to kill his wife, girlfriend and commanding officer; and the charging of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales with the murder of 17 civilians in southern Afghanistan.

The pornography investigation began in late April after the parent of a high-school student reported a base soldier was demanding in online chats that a student send him nude photos.

"There is clearly child pornography involved," said Bob Calkins, a State Patrol spokesman.

While most of the allegations involve online activities, the Patrol also is investigating a report the suspect may have met some of his victims in person, according to Mead.

KIRO-TV, citing a source involved in the investigation, said the soldier eventually offered the girls money in exchange for videos.

When some girls balked at cooperating, he threatened to inform their families and friends about the images and spread them online, Mead said.

"Twenty-five years ago, we educated our kids to watch out for strangers in parks," Mead said. "We need to take the same common-sense approach with the Internet and modern-day technology. And parents need to be watching over the online activities of their kids."

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com

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