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 Massachusetts.
Chayanne Nieves, 23, of Lowell, Massachusetts, 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 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 this 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.”
Nieves pressured the victim to send nude pictures of herself to him and later threatened to post them if she did not take off her clothes during video calls in which he would perform 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 creating a Snapchat account and sending inappropriate photographs to the man.
Detective Trooper Isaac Merriam began the months-long investigation following clues on the internet that would eventually lead to Nieves. Staff in the state police computer crime section in Waterbury participated in the search that ended in 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 found four pictures of the girl, Ronayne reported.
Merriam said pictures are supposed to disappear from certain computer programs such as Snapchat, but evidence showed at least one screen shot was saved in this case.
The account also had captured several message exchanges, including one at about 12:35 in the morning. The court affidavit describes one conversation Nieves made demands of the girl and she replied, “I wish I never met u I’m serious.”
Ronayne said she subsequently obtained a federal search warrant for Nieves’ apartment at 156 Pleasant St. in Lowell. The search happened 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 Vermont 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 case involving charges of assault and battery and open and gross lewdness. That case started as an assault with intent to rape where Nieves followed a woman on a public sidewalk with his pants down while committing a sex act and yelling what he wanted to do.
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 who was outside her home, Ronayne wrote.
U.S. Magistrate Judge David H. Hennessy agreed to a request from the government that Nieves be held without bail pending trial. Based on his criminal history, if convicted, Nieves faces a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison and a maximum of 40 years. Once discharged from prison, he would also be placed on federal supervised release for up to life. A fine of up to $250,000 also is possible.