June 12, 2023
Burlington County Prosecutor LaChia L. Bradshaw announced that a Palmyra man who pled guilty to using social media to coax underage boys into sending him nude pictures and videos, then using that material to blackmail his victims into performing sexual acts on themselves for his enjoyment, was sentenced today to 25 years in state prison.
Sean Higgins, 32, 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 that is housed in the same facility.
Higgins pled guilty earlier this year to four counts of Endangering the Welfare of Children (three First Degree and one Third Degree). 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.
He must serve 85 percent of the term before becoming eligible for parole. The sentence was handed down in Superior Court in Mount Holly before the Hon. Christopher J. Garrenger, J.S.C. Higgins has been lodged in the Burlington County Jail in Mount Holly since being taken into custody at his residence in October 2020.
The investigation revealed that Higgins would adopt the persona of a teenage girl and utilize Snapchat and Instagram to begin a conversation with a juvenile male, 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.
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.
“The crimes committed by this defendant are among the cruelest, most depraved ever prosecuted by this office,” Prosecutor Bradshaw said. “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.”
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.
“Sexual exploitation of a child is a repulsive crime that lasts a lifetime and Sean Higgins betrayed the trust of his community by victimizing children,” said Homeland Security Investigations Newark Special Agent in Charge Ricky J. Patel. “HSI will continue to work tirelessly with our partners around the clock to protect our children from predators.”
The investigation was conducted by the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office High-Tech Crimes Unit, the Cinnaminson Township Police Department and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations – Cherry Hill, all of which are members of the New Jersey State Police Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force. Multiple state and local agencies assisted in confirming the identities of additional victims once investigators became aware of their existence.
“Sexual exploitation of a child is a repulsive crime that lasts a lifetime and Sean Higgins betrayed the trust of his community by victimizing children,” said HSI Newark Special Agent in Charge Ricky J. Patel. “HSI will continue to work tirelessly with our partners around the clock to protect our children from predators.”
Higgins was prosecuted by Assistant Prosecutor Stephen Eife, supervisor of the BCPO Special Victims Unit.
Sean Higgins, 32, sentenced today to 25 years in state prison