WATERBURY — Vermont authorities are reminding parents to discuss with children the risks of improper connections with unknown adults over social media following a serious case involving a Washington County child and a high-risk registered sex offender from Lowell, Mass.
Chayanne Nieves, 23, was recently charged in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts with one count of receiving child pornography over Snapchat based on a criminal investigation that began with state police detectives at the Middlesex barracks.
It turned out Nieves is considered moderate to high risk to reoffend, according to the Sex Offender Registry Board in Massachusetts.
Nieves communicated with the pre-teen Vermont girl on Snapchat between Nov. 30, 2020 and Dec. 3, 2020 and eventually threatened and extorted the child, according to Homeland Security Investigations, which later joined the multi-agency investigation.
Col. Matthew Birmingham, director of the Vermont State Police, said cases like Nieves continue to show that online predators are looking to exploit and victimize children from Vermont — and beyond.
“We encourage parents to have an open dialogue with their children about the dangers that can be present online and through apps on their devices,” Birmingham said.
“Parents also should be vigilant in keeping up with their child’s online communications, be aware of any concerning incidents or changes in behavior, and report any potential suspicious or criminal conduct to the authorities,” he said.
Nieves pressured the victim to send nude pictures of herself to him and later threatened to post them if she did not get naked during video calls so he could commit a sex act on himself, HSI Special Agent Meghan Ronayne said in court papers.
Birmingham said the case surfaced when a woman alerted Vermont State Police on Dec. 3 about her daughter recently creating a Snapchat account and sending inappropriate photographs to the man.
Detective Trooper Isaac Merriam began to check for clues and used the internet and technology to get some strong leads. Merriam and his co-workers, including the department’s computer crime section eventually found the trail leading to Lowell, Mass. and authorities there were contacted.
The Vermont State Police obtained a search warrant for the Snapchat account being used by the man and four pictures of the girl were found, Ronayne reported.
Merriam said some pictures are supposed to disappear off a screen for certain computer programs, but evidence showed at least one screen shot was saved in the Massachusetts case.
The account also had captured a couple of exchanges, including one conversation at about 12:35 in the morning.
In one conversation when he is demanding actions from the girl, she responds, “I wish I never met u I’m serious,” the court affidavit notes.
Ronayne said she subsequently obtained a federal search warrant for Nieves apartment at 156 Pleasant St. It was executed on Aug. 19 and Homeland Security agents, along with local police, found significant evidence against Nieves, she said.
During the search, Nieves also confirmed the Snapchat account used to communicate with the child was his, officials said.
Nieves criminal record includes a 2018 conviction in Middlesex Superior Court for two counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14, Ronayne said in her affidavit.
She said he also has a 2017 assault and battery and open and gross lewdness case in 2017. She said that case started as an assault with intent to rape after he followed a woman down a public sidewalk with his pants down and committing a sex act, while yelling in Spanish what he wanted to do to her.
A third case is pending in Lowell District Court for open and gross lewdness on claims he exposed himself and committed a sex act in front of a female neighbor while she was on her front steps, Ronayne wrote.
U.S. Magistrate Judge David H. Hennessy agreed with a request from the government that Nieves be held without bail pending trial. The defense did not object, but can later seek release.
Based on Nieves’s criminal history, if convicted, he faces a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison and a maximum of 40 years. He would also be placed on federal supervised release once discharged from prison for up to life. A fine of up to $250,000 also is possible.