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Suburban man gets 27 years in prison for extorting child porn from teenage girl

Prosecutors say David J. Cottrell told the girl, “I’m gonna own ur f---ing life; Every aspect of it … Say good bye to ever leaving your house other than school.”

Dirksen Federal Courthouse
Sun-Times Media

A federal judge handed a nearly three-decade prison sentence Tuesday to a onetime New York University law school student raised in Park Ridge who spent years extorting child pornography from a teenage girl by threatening to humiliate and shame her online.

The girl’s father has said his “knees buckled” when he learned his “daughter was being tortured and blackmailed and controlled inside her own home” by David J. Cottrell.

U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman sentenced Cottrell Tuesday to 27 years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. In doing so, he granted a request from prosecutors, who said Cottrell also demanded child pornography from other minors, even after he learned he was under investigation.

Cottrell’s defense attorneys wrote in a court memo that Cottrell was “truly remorseful,” and they called his behavior “appalling and repulsive.” But they asked for a sentence of 15 years in prison, insisting that Cottrell needs treatment for pedophilia, major depressive disorder, substance abuse and other mental health issues.

The suburban man, who more recently lived in Niles, pleaded guilty in March 2020 to sexual exploitation of a child and possession of child pornography, court records show.

Cottrell, now 31, was 24 and in law school when he first made contact with his victim on a free online chat website in 2014, according to a separate memo from Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Mulaney.

At the time, the girl was a seventh grader.

The girl told Cottrell she was 18, used a false name, sent nude pictures to Cottrell at his request, and continued to chat with him for months, Mulaney wrote.

But one day, the girl told Cottrell she was driving and couldn’t chat, the prosecutor wrote. That’s when Cottrell revealed that he knew she was not old enough to drive, her real name, where she lived, where she went to school, the names of her family members and what her parents did for a living.

Cottrell also threatened to distribute her nude photographs online or send them to people she knew if she did not send him more sexually explicit images, according to Mulaney. Cottrell told her she would “wake up tomorrow to find out [she’s] a real pornstar.”

“I’m gonna own ur f---ing life,” Cottrell threatened. “Every aspect of it … Say good bye to ever leaving your house other than school.”

Cottrell blackmailed the girl from age 13 to 16, Mulaney wrote. The girl repeatedly asked him to stop, saying, “Why do you do this to me,” “why are you such an a—hole I’m 15 I can’t even drive by myself,” and “I hate you, I want this to stop.”

But the prosecutor even said that Cottrell blew off her threats to report him to the police, boasting that he couldn’t be caught because he had encrypted her files. He went so far as to claim his collection could survive the apocalypse, explaining, “I’ve actually contemplated before about how in a post-apocalyptic future I could sell porn for food & supplies.”

During the girl’s freshman year of high school, Cottrell began to make her do live video chats where she would have to perform, Mulaney wrote. The girl would stay up late at night making videos, which left her exhausted the next day at school.

The girl’s parents discovered the extortion around the Fourth of July 2017. That’s when Mulaney said Cottrell sent the girl Snapchat messages while she had been at a friend’s house with a boy she liked. She came home upset, and her parents took her phone away and discovered Cottrell’s messages.

Mulaney said investigators found the last video the girl made for Cottrell before that happened. Three and a half minutes into it, the girl began to cry, Mulaney wrote.

She later explained, “I started crying … because I hated doing it and couldn’t pretend that I liked it.”