A former youth pastor in Burlington County who pleaded guilty to using social media to coax underage boys into sending him nude pictures and videos has been sentenced to a quarter of a century in prison.

Burlington County Prosecutor LaChia Bradshaw's office says 32-year-old Sean Higgins then used those pictures and videos to blackmail his victims into performing sexual acts on themselves for his enjoyment.

On Monday, Higgins was sentenced to 25 years in state prison. He must serve 85 percent of his term, or just over 21 years, before becoming eligible for parole.

Higgins committed the crimes in 2020 while serving as the youth pastor and music leader at Harbor Baptist Church in Hainesport. He was also a teacher at the Harbor Baptist Academy, a private K-12 school at that same facility.

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Earlier this year, Higgins pleaded guilty to four counts of endangering the welfare of children; each count represented a separate victim.

He was not charged with having physical contact with his victims and none of the charges involved members of the church congregation or students at the school.

Perverted pastor

The investigation began in 2020 after a youth in Berks County, PA, contacted Snapchat and reported that he sent nude photos of himself to someone he believed to be an unknown female. The unknown female, who in actuality was Higgins, had threatened to expose his nude photographs after they exchanged pictures.

Vile chain of events

Authorities say Higgins would adopt the persona of a teenage girl and utilize Snapchat and Instagram to begin a conversation with a young boy, introducing himself as "Julie Miller."

After establishing a rapport, he would suggest that they trade photos. Higgins would then send pictures of an unidentified female teenager.

Prosecutors continue,

In return, Higgins would often receive nude photos that the victims took of themselves. Immediately upon receiving those images, he would take a screenshot of the victim’s friends list that was visible on the forward-facing social media platform. Higgins would send that screenshot back to the victim and threaten to send the nude photos he had just received to the victim’s friends list unless the victim did exactly what Higgins demanded.

In most of the cases that were investigated, Higgins then demanded that his victims go into the bathroom at their residence and place the phone on the floor, or at an angle looking up, and would instruct the victims to masturbate or perform sexual acts on themselves. Higgins would record what was transpiring.

According to the videos made by Higgins that were obtained during the investigation, victims would often beg Higgins to be allowed to stop engaging in sexual conduct, but Higgins would demand that they complete his instructions, or face the consequences of having the recordings he was making of the incident be sent to their list of friends.

Bradshaw's remarks

Burlington County Prosecutor LaChia Bradshaw said in a statement,

The crimes committed by this defendant are among the cruelest, most depraved ever prosecuted by this office. Some of these victims contemplated suicide to get out from under the extreme anguish that accompanied the defendant’s debauched, unrelenting demands. I cannot emphasize strongly enough how important it is for parents to routinely discuss with their children the dangers that lurk in cyberspace.

Higgins has been lodged in the Burlington County Jail in Mount Holly since being taken into custody in October 2020.

This investigation was conducted by the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office, the Cinnaminson Township Police Department, and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations. Multiple state and local agencies assisted in confirming the identities of additional victims once investigators became aware of their existence.

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