Trial begins for social media influencer accused of blackmail, sexual violation of teens

A social media influencer used blackmail, a spiked drink and unconsciousness following nights of drug or alcohol use to sexually violate two teens on multiple occasions, prosecutors have told jurors as the man’s trial begins.

The defendant, who cannot be named due to a suppression order, was arrested in February 2020 for alleged offending over the four years prior.

He began his trial at the High Court at Auckland this week by pleading guilty to two charges: possession of MDMA and to common assault, having punched the first of the two accusers in the head at a party in 2019, before the allegations surfaced. But he denied 11 other charges: six counts of sexual violation by unlawful sexual connection, three counts of blackmail and two counts of aggravated wounding by stupefaction.

In his opening statement to jurors, Crown prosecutor Jacob Barry said the defendant held power over the two young men due to his social media influencer status and the parties he attended with New Zealand’s social elite.

“The thing about social media is it often only projects what the person wants you to see,” Barry said. “That might be the perfect metaphor for [the defendant’s] life, because what you see is not always what you get.

“That could not be more true for the two complainants in this trial … At different times through these friendships, [he] abused the trust of these relationships in quite extreme ways.”

The defendant met the first accuser when he was a teenager and trying to increase his own profile, the prosecutor said. The next year, the defendant threatened multiple times to ruin the teen’s reputation if he didn’t allow the man to perform a sexual act on him, the prosecutor said. The teen, they said, relented.

The young man said his drink was later spiked at a party and he woke up at the defendant’s house, where he was being abused without his consent. A similar incident happened the next year, the teen alleged. And on another occasion after that, the accuser said, the defendant threatened to leak naked photos of him if he didn’t agree to a sexual act again.

“Under the force of that threat, [the teen] relented,” Barry said.

A month later, prosecutors allege, the defendant targeted another teen who had rebuffed his advances after a night of drinking. That accuser also said he blacked out then woke up to find the defendant performing a sex act on him at the defendant’s home. A similar incident happened about six weeks later, he told authorities.

Both accusers — described by prosecutors as “still growing up and extremely impressionable” when the incidents were alleged to have occurred — are expected to testify over the next two days.

In her brief opening statement, defence lawyer Emma Priest told jurors the credibility of the two accusers will come into play at the trial.

“Was it just a friendship or were they in a sexual relationship?” she asked of the first accuser, adding that jurors will have to decide if the incidents described by the second accuser happened at all.

Drugs and alcohol, she suggested, could have affected his memory.

“You will need to decide whether you can rely on his account at all.”

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