A youth pastor and teacher in Burlington County has admitted to blackmailing underage teenage boys for nude photographs and sexually explicit videos using social media apps.

Sean Higgins extorted his victims in 2020 by pretending to be a teenage girl on social media apps including Snapchat and Instagram, according to the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office. He was arrested that October at his home.

The 32-year-old Palmyra man was a youth pastor and music leader at Harbor Baptist Church in Hainesport at the time. He also served as a teacher at Harbor Baptist Academy, a private K-12 school, in the same building.

Higgins on Tuesday pleaded guilty to three first-degree counts and one third-degree count of child endangerment, each count representing one victim. According to Burlington County Prosecutor LaChia Bradshaw, Higgins was initially linked to 13 victims.

As part of his plea agreement, he must serve 27 years in state prison. His sentencing is set for Mar. 3.

Officials said that Higgins did not plead guilty to any crimes involving physical contact with the victims. The charges also did not involve any church members or students at the school.

📱 Posing as a teenage girl

Investigators found that Higgins reeled in his male victims on social media by posing as a teenage girl named Julie Miller. Higgins would then propose trading nude photos — he sent pictures of an unidentified girl and in return would get photos the victims had taken of themselves, according to Bradshaw.

Once he had the nude images, Higgins would use them to blackmail his victims into creating more sexual photos and videos. He threatened to release their nude images if they did not comply, a crime often referred to as sextortion.

"In most of the cases that were investigated, Higgins then demanded that his victims go into the bathroom at their residence and place the phone on the floor, or at an angle looking up, and would instruct the victims to masturbate or perform sexual acts on themselves. Higgins would record what was transpiring," the prosecutor said.

Those videos showed that the victims would often beg Higgens to let them stop, but he refused.

However, two victims decided to report the abuse. One teen in Berks County, Pennsylvania reported the blackmail to Snapchat. Another teen in Alabama contacted law enforcement.

Rick Rickman is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at richard.rickman@townsquaremedia.com

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