A Canberra teenager will spend six months in youth detention for his role in an extortion ring that targeted men through the gay hook-up app Grindr and threatened to expose them as paedophiles.
Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker said the boy, 17, was driven by greed and a "self-serving sense of vigilantism" when he lured two men and demanded they hand over cash and mobile phones in a "calculated entrapment" that preyed on vulnerable victims.
Police charged four males, including the boy's older brother, in February after they cracked the syndicate and linked it with the suicide in NSW of one of the victims.
The boy pleaded guilty in the ACT Childrens' Court to two blackmail offences, as well as growing and possessing cannabis after police found four plants when they searched his bedroom.
In the first incident, he and his brother allegedly arranged to meet a man through Grindr, threatening to "ruin his life" by publishing messages and photographs exchanged on the social media app if he didn't hand over cash in early January.
The males told the man they wanted to "lock up people like him", but the man refused to comply with their demands.
A few days later, the group again used the gay dating app to contact the man who later died by suicide.
The boy prepared a dossier on the man, including online messages, photographs and details of ACT child sex offences, before he and several others met the man at Mawson shops at night.
They threatened to expose the information contained in the profile unless he handed over his phone and withdrew cash from an ATM.
A few hours later, the boy and two other teens were refused entry when they knocked on the door of the man's home. He was found dead that afternoon. His death has not been treated as suspicious.
About an hour later, the boy had written on the man's Facebook page he had videos ready to upload to YouTube and posters he would pin up around Calwell shops.
In a social media message sent soon after he learned of the man's death, he wrote: "I contributed to a sick bastard killing himself".
Prosecutors argued during sentence proceedings there was a "nexus" between the boy's crimes and the man's suicide, while his defence team said there was no evidence of a causal connection between the two.
The man's mother said she was "overwhelmed by the horror" of her son's death and he had everything to live for as she spoke of her pain and grief at his death in an emotional victim impact statement her partner read in court earlier this week.
"My beautiful, kind, gentle and loving son was snatched away from life.
"I often think of his last moments. He must have been so distraught and in such fear."
In her sentencing remarks, Ms Walker said the online messages the defendant wrote soon after the man's suicide demonstrated "a disturbing callousness" towards his death, despite "some incongruous utterances of regret".
She said while there was "a close correlation" between the boy's offending and the victim's suicide, she could not find his crimes directly caused the man to take his own life.
But Ms Walker, while acknowledging the tragedy of his premature death and the "unfathomable grief" it undoubtedly caused his family, found she could not take it into account in sentencing the boy.
She said the boy had a reasonably stable upbringing but noted the boy's father was sexually abused as a child. She said his experience may have influenced his son's views towards gay men.
"[He] has an immature view in which he has conflated the notions of homosexuality and paedophilia. It goes without saying these are as different as chalk and cheese.
"I cannot be satisfied he now thinks differently."
Ms Walker sentenced the boy to 19 months' detention, to be suspended from mid-August upon him entering a 12-month good behaviour order.
Two other boys have pleaded guilty to offences linked to the scam. The boy's older brother plans to fight the charges in the Magistrates Court.
If you or someone you know needs help, contact beyondblue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 44 or Kid's HelpLine on 1800 55 1800.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.