Two unnamed Penn State student-athletes told police they were extorted in the fall by a woman who convinced them — and other athletes across the country — to send sexually explicit images and threatened to publish them online, according to search warrants made public Friday.
More than two dozen videos and photos were sent to the woman. That included videos of group sex and videos recorded in the Penn State football locker room depicting athletes in various stages of undress, university police wrote in the warrants.
Five male athletes — who were not suspected of committing any crime — were reported to have been extorted by the same woman, who also was not identified in court documents.
At least one met the woman on a dating app, while another was contacted through Snapchat.
The woman, police wrote, told one man she “likes doing this to athletes” and planned to “expose him.”
A link to the images was posted on a handful of public Instagram accounts in September. At least one of the student-athletes disclosed the information to his coaching staff and the university’s athletics department, which assisted with having the accounts removed.
The woman also replied to a September tweet from football coach James Franklin with a link to a sexually explicit video. Her tweet tagged the student-athlete’s personal account.
It wasn’t the first time the person behind the profile attempted to extort either high school or college athletes, police wrote. Sexually explicit videos and photos were also shared with coaches and their football programs in Alabama, Florida, Minnesota, Mississippi and Missouri.
The monthslong investigation came to a close in June. No charges were filed by Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna, in part, because the student-athletes “no longer wanted to pursue the matter.”
A federal investigation is ongoing, Cantorna’s attorney wrote in a court document filed Monday.
The warrants and accompanying court filings were kept from the public for three weeks after Centre County President Judge Pamela Ruest OK’d the wholesale sealing of the case at Penn State’s request, a rare move that a government transparency advocate described as “unusual.”
The university argued the public release of the documents would “result in great personal embarrassment and insult.” Attorney John Snyder asked a judge to keep existing and future filings sealed.
“The University’s concern was focused on potential student victims and their right to privacy in this case, and the possible irreparable and irreversible damage that the immediate unsealing of the records could impose,” university spokeswoman Lisa Powers wrote in an email. “There was never any intent to permanently seal the warrants, only to redact the names of victims.”
Those with information about the case, including others who may have been extorted, were asked to call police at 814-863-1111.
The county’s top prosecutor, as well as the Centre Daily Times and two other media organizations, fought for the documents to be made public.
Attorney Mary Lou Maierhofer, who represented Cantorna, wrote there was “no basis under the facts or the law to prevent public access.”
“The release of the records may place some individuals in an embarrassing or humiliating position, but that does not trump the need for public access to the public judicial records,” Maierhofer wrote. “(Penn State) has not set forth any legal or factual justification for the search warrants to remain sealed.”