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A Branson man who at the time taught business at Cassville High School was sentenced Tuesday, Aug. 2, to 30 years in federal prison without parole for extorting dozens of children across the nation to send him sexually explicit images.

Federal prosecutors described Brandon Lane McCullough, 31, as ruthless in convincing children to send him increasingly more explicit images by threatening to reveal to their friends and family images they had already sent him.

According to online federal court documents, a 14-year-old girl in New Jersey at one point pleaded with McCullough to stop. She messaged him, not knowing his real identity:

“Can you please j leave me alone now.”

“You’re an awful person.”

“Can you j stop.”

McCullough responded (as brianmagee8809): “Alright well I guess I’ll just post everything rn then.”

At one point, according to documents, the girl — identified as Jane Doe —informed McCullough she was contemplating suicide because she felt trapped.

He responded: “That’s ur choice.”

Prosecutors described McCullough’s conduct as a “sextortion scheme” in which 11 identified child victims, and dozens more child victims who have not been identified, were coerced to send him pornographic images and videos.

McCullough had entered a plea of guilty a year ago, with sentencing left to U.S. District Judge M. Douglas Harpool. The general sentencing range was roughly from 15 years to 30 years.

“This defendant, a high school teacher, pretended to be a teenager online in order to prey upon young victims across the country,” said U.S. Attorney Teresa Moore in a press release.

The federal investigation began Feb. 14, 2020, when a police detective in New Jersey contacted federal agents in Missouri. The mother of Jane Doe had reported to local police that her daughter was using a mobile phone messaging application to have sexually explicit conversations, and to send sexually explicit images, to McCullough, who portrayed himself as a 15-year-old boy.

On May 7, 2020, officers executed a search warrant at McCullough’s Branson residence. His wife and two children were home. Investigators seized an external hard drive concealed beneath a basket under a bathroom sink in the basement.

McCullough later told investigators that the “8809” portion of his “brianmagee8809” handle came from the date of his wedding.

Some of the victims were younger than 14-year-old Jane Doe, according to court records.

“The defendant told law enforcement that he could not recall how many minors he had chatted with and how often he had done it because he engaged in the conduct so frequently,” according to court records.

This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ami Harshad Miller. It was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations, the Southwest Missouri Cyber Crimes Task Force, and the Florham Park Borough, New Jersey, Police Department.

Steve Pokin

Steve Pokin writes the Pokin Around and The Answer Man columns for the Springfield Daily Citizen. He also writes about criminal justice issues. He can be reached at spokin@sgfcitizen.org. His office line is 417-837-3661. More by Steve Pokin