A Pennsylvania mother who catfished a 16-year-old from hundreds of miles away using sexually explicit images of her underage daughter and later coaxed him into attempting suicide has been sentenced to 35 years in prison, officials announced this week.
Linda Paolini, 45, assumed the persona of her teen daughter and used a fake Instagram account to lure an unsuspecting Florida teenager into a suspected suicide manipulation plot, federal prosecutors said on Monday.
On Oct. 31, 2019, Paolini pleaded guilty to two counts of manufacturing child pornography and online enticement of a minor, according to an indictment obtained by Oxygen.com. She was sentenced to 35 years in prison, officials said.
“Linda Paolini sexually exploited a boy the same age as her teen daughter,” Special Agent Michael J. Driscoll of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division said. “She even used pictures of her daughter to do it. These were predatory, premeditated acts, solely for her own gratification.”
First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Williams added that Paolini’s conduct was “so heinous and cold-hearted that it almost defies description.“
“She will be behind bars for decades and will no longer pose a danger to other children,” Williams said.
In 2018, the Philadelphia mother posed as a high school freshman on social media and sent “provocative images” of her daughter to the minor, who lived in Boca Raton, Florida.
The two first met on YouTube and Pixel Gun 3D, an online multiplayer video game, according to a sentencing memo obtained by Oxygen.com. They typically communicated on Instagram and supposedly traded upwards of 50,000 messages over several months. Paolini used the Instagram handle @g_pg3d, investigators said.
The teen ultimately fell in love with Paolini, according to prosecutors, and the two began dating in April 2018.
Paolini later persuaded the teenager to send her videos of him masturbating, prosecutors said. She sent at least 35 messages over the span of several weeks begging or encouraging the teen to perform sexual acts on camera for her, court documents show.
“Touch urself faster. Harder!” Paolini wrote the teen on April 26, 2018.
“Does it feel good?” she asked in a separate message.
As the phony online relationship proceeded, the messages soon became increasingly lewd.
“Omg I want to feel u rock hard inside me,” the mother wrote the teenager.
The two never met in person but they discussed a possible meet-up in Florida during a summer vacation.
Paolini later faked her own suicide by pretending to cut herself during a video chat with the teen. He later sliced open his arm with a knife.
“Though she was six states over and 1,000 miles away, the defendant convinced this fragile child to take a knife to himself in the mistaken belief that he was joining in this desperate act with a soulmate who loved him and could understand the anguish he was experiencing,” U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain stated in the sentencing memo.
McSwain, who described Paolini as “sadistic” and a “master of deception,” said her grip on the teen amounted to “total” and “cruel” “mind control.” The teenager survived the suicide attempt but was physically and emotionally “scarred” by the incident.
“When I found out Paolini’s true identity, I was heartbroken and disgusted,” the unidentified teen wrote in a victim impact statement. “It will forever haunt me.”
Paolini was arrested by federal agents in January 2019 after the mother of her daughter’s boyfriend tipped off authorities.
“I hated my life, I don’t know why — I was so tired of everything,” Paolini later told detectives when asked why she staged her own death.
Investigators also said Paolini created other fake social profiles and to engage in similar “cat-fishing” plots with at least two other underage boys, including another suspected minor based in Algeria, according to officials.
Paolini was also sentenced to a lifetime of supervised release and ordered to pay a $15,000 fine. She also has a 10-year-old son, detectives said.
“Unfortunately, adults posing as children to lure other children into photographing themselves in sexually compromising images is a common occurrence,” John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Vice-Chair for Technology in the Department of Public Management Adam Scott Wandt told Oxygen.com. “It is also common for child predators to exploit their own children to abuse another child.”
Wandt, a cybercrime expert, said such cases unfold more frequently than most parents would like to think.
“Child predators are highly deceptive and go through great lengths to convince their victims to comply with their demands,” he added. “We see this type of grooming on a regular basis. Parents need to review and scrutinize their child’s conversations, even when they think the child is talking to a peer his [or] her own age.”
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