Four teenagers accused of extorting men they met through the gay hook-up app Grindr threatened to "out" their targets as paedophiles if they didn't hand over cash and mobile phones, a court has been told.
Police launched an investigation into the alleged blackmail scam in January after reports to the AIDS Action Council that men in Canberra had been targeted by a group of young people on social media.
Three boys and one man were last week charged with blackmail offences linked to the alleged syndicate and remanded in custody to give police a week to glean crucial digital evidence from mobile phones seized as part of the probe.
The teens, who are aged between 15 and 18 and cannot be named for legal reasons, returned to the ACT Magistrates Court on Thursday.
They have not yet entered pleas.
First Constable Steven Luxmoore said the alleged offenders contacted the men through Grindr or Facebook then arrange to meet at the home of the victim, or at a public place, before telling the men they'd been communicating with minors.
One boy is alleged to have told one victim: "We're the pedo hunters".
The boys would create a dossier on their victims, the court heard, a folder containing the man's photo, screenshots of conversations with people who were minors, and possible crimes they had committed.
The teens then allegedly threatened to report the men to police, or expose them by putting up posters depicting screenshots of their online conversations or contacting their workplaces, if they didn't hand over mobile phones or up to $1000.
There were likely up to 10 alleged offenders, with five main protagonists, and could be up to 15 men who were preyed upon, the court was told.
Police previously said they were still working out the roles of each of the accused but had linked some members of the group to one Canberra victim of the scam who died by suicide in NSW last month.
The court heard there was no evidence to directly link the 15-year-old boy and one of the 16-year-old boys to the death of the man in NSW.
A video and images found on a mobile phone seized from that 16-year-old alleged offender were aired in court when his lawyer, Paul Edmonds, made a bid for bail that was opposed by the prosecution.
First Constable Luxmoore described the video, which included images of cash, an alleged victim, and his bank card, overlaid with the word "Homo" and set to "cheerful" music, as a "celebratory or gloating" account of the teen's alleged offending.
Another doctored image showed the accused's headshot superimposed on an image of Jesus, holding a photograph of the alleged victim's head in his hands.
A police digital forensics examiner told the court police needed more time to extract information from phones seized from the teenagers since their last court appearances due to competing priorities and tight resources.
Mr Edmonds said the police's failure to extract the material while his client remanded in custody was unacceptable and "borders on contemptuous", noting the boy had family support if released and no criminal record.
"They've had his phone for a week since he's been locked up in Bimberi [youth justice centre] and they haven't done a thing," he said.
Magistrate Margaret Hunter was "gravely concerned" by the delay and said she couldn't have children "languishing" inside the centre.
The police officer said experts would make every effort to process the information in a timely manner but Ms Hunter said she would release the boy "against my better judgement".
He was bailed on strict conditions.
The 15-year-old boy, charged with blackmail and using a carriage service to harass, intimidate or offend, and who was represented by Sarah Boxall, was also bailed on strict conditions that effectively amounted to house arrest.
Another boy, 16, did not apply for bail and was remanded in custody on two charges of blackmail and cultivating cannabis.
His older brother, 18, was denied bail. Ms Hunter said she was worried about the older teenager interfering with witnesses, given the court had heard evidence he had visited their homes.