Months of threats over social media have led to up to five years in prison for a former Mason City man who tried to coerce a University of Northern Iowa freshman from Scott County to have sex with him.
“You need to realize you are not going to get away with this,” Judge Brad Harris told Christian Gossweiler, 19, as he sentenced him to prison on one count of extortion, a felony, Monday in Black Hawk County District Court.
Sheriff’s deputies placed Gossweiler, who had been free, in handcuffs in the courtroom as his victim exited.
Under state law, extortion isn’t a crime that carries sex offender registration.
Assistant County Attorney Elizabeth O’Donnell said evaluations conducted by corrections officials showed he was “above average” and “moderate to high” risk to re-offend.
“He is a predator, and he would have not stopped,” O’Donnell said.
Defense attorney Kevin Engels had sought probation, noting that Gossweiler was only 18 at the time of the incident and didn’t have any unrelated entanglements with the justice system. He noted that his client was kicked out of UNI and had lost jobs over the offense.
“The conduct is not redeemable. The individual is,” Engels said.
Gossweiler apologized to the woman, saying what he did was ignorant.
According to a letter submitted to the court, the victim went through depression over the incident and at one point blamed herself before coming to the realization that Gossweiler got himself into the situation.
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In handing down his decision, Harris said granting probation would have been “unconscionable” given the conduct and the risk assessments.
“This wasn’t a one-time thing. This was an escalating offense … it was a case of you being a manipulator,” Harris said.
O’Donnell said Gossweiler had found the victim in the summer of 2018 through a Facebook group for incoming UNI freshmen and then connected with her through the Snapchat messaging platform.
“He was a complete stranger,” she said.
Gossweiler, who used a fake name, said he had nude photos of her and threatened to release them to her family and friends if she didn’t send him more photos and videos, according to O’Donnell. She said the woman acquiesced to the demands, which led to more demands, requests for specific images with specific objects.
“As soon as he got one image, he wanted more,” she said.
She told him to stop, and when she blocked him, he developed another Snapchat profile and came back at her, O’Donnell said.
After she started at UNI, the demands turned to meeting up for sex, and she notified authorities. Undercover officers with UNI police took over her profile and arranged a meeting on campus in August 2018.
Gossweiler showed up, and when he realized the woman at the location wasn’t his victim, he ran away and tried to hide, O’Donnell said.
Authorities said she wasn’t the only victim of his online harassment. Earlier this year, he was sentenced to probation and ordered to undergo a psychosexual and mental health evaluation in a Story County case where he used an assumed name to target an Iowa State University student.
A second Story County extortion case involving yet another ISU victim he targeted in 2018 is still pending in court, and Gossweiler is also charged in Scott County for earlier threats he made to the UNI victim.
Court records show a plea agreement in the Scott County case was rejected in June.