Meet Justin Berry, the Bieber lookalike, who, beginning at age 13, operated an online pornographic websites empire featuring himself, other teen males and prostitutes. In 2005, at the age of 18, what he was doing was discovered by a journalist. He cooperated in a New York Times feature article. Before publication, Berry was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for his help in prosecuting other men involved with his websites. After the story broke, Berry was called to testify before a Congressional committee. He made numerous appearances, including one on the Oprah Winfrey show, and was used as the posterboy for a moral panic about potential dangers that could be facing young people online. The man who wrote the story, Kurt Eichenwald, received a lot of acclaim for helping to “save” the boy. Justin Berry began life as a public speaker, earning money from giving talks to parents and children, as part of his immunity deal. It seemed like a happy ending to a shocking story.
The problem was that journalists working for other publications just weren’t satisfied with the story and began asking a lot of questions. Who was Justin Berry? Who were the other boys and girls in the videos? It was soon discovered that Kurt Eichenwald had paid Justin Berry money, which was against New York Times policy. But he had paid the money out of his own pocket. He had also paid money into Berry’s Paypal account the same way the subscribers to his website had. Berry, it turns out, was already being investigated and was going to be arrested. People who had paid money into his account, including the journalist, would probably have been arrested too. Newspapers began suggesting that the journalist was possibly involved in some way and had used his position as a journalist to discover that police were about to shut down Justin Berry’s empire. They suggested that he had used saving Berry as a front for saving himself, fearing the discovery of the payment transaction.
There was little that could be done to Justin Berry by this point, because he was a federal witness. Newspapers instead began investigating his empire and the other people in his videos. They discovered chat transcripts and emails that show Berry was clearly in charge, not the “pedophiles pulling his strings”. It showed that Berry had actively recruited other young people, including young prostitutes that he made porn films with. He had an Amazon wishlist that was mostly computer equipment needed for film production. His father was later involved in the recruiting of the prostitutes.
The journalist who broke the story later went on to become a figure of ill-repute because of the whole case. Many people involved in the investigation were disciplined. The media stopped portraying Berry as a victim and instead portrayed him as a criminal who got away with it. He is often written about as a manipulative young child pornographer, who knew exactly what he was doing and was, at age 18, in the process of expanding his empire and recruiting more and more young people because he loved all the money he was making. They say he started to play victim when he realized the game was up and he was in serious trouble to save his own skin. One investigator interviewed in the aftermath said that seeing Berry looking sad on Oprah made him want to kick the screen in. “He was always grinning from ear to ear or roaring with laughter in his porn films. He should never have been given immunity.” Whatever you choose to believe, it is a very interesting story.