Jerry Harris, a breakout star of Netflix’s docuseries “Cheer,” was arrested to face a charge of production of child pornography, according to federal prosecutors.
Harris is expected to appear in federal court in Chicago on Thursday, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Fitzpatrick with Northern District of Illinois. Court records were not immediately available for Harris.
The 21-year-old allegedly solicited child pornography images and videos from two 14-year-old twin boys on multiple occasions, according to a complaint filed against Harris on Thursday. One of the boys told authorities that Harris had solicited oral sex from him in a bathroom during a cheerleading event they both attended.
It was unclear if Harris has legal representation. A spokesperson for Harris denied the allegations when they were first reported on Monday.
“We categorically dispute the claims made against Jerry Harris, which are alleged to have occurred when he was a teenager,” the statement said.
The boys are minors who are considered victims of sexual assault and were not identified in the complaint.
According to the complaint, Harris contacted one of the boys on Instagram in 2018, when he was 19 and the boys were 13-year-olds. One of the boys said he sent nude photographs to Harris through Snapchat and began communicating with him on FaceTime, where Harris asked him to further expose himself.
The other brother alleged that Harris asked him for photographs but he always said no, resulting in Harris getting "pushy" and making him feel guilty, the complaint said.
Forensic investigations into the twins' phones showed text messages and Snapchat communications between the boys and Harris, according to the complaint. Harris confirmed to investigators during a voluntary interview Monday that the phone number on the boys' phones was his, the complaint said.
In a communication dated February 7 of this year, one of the boys asked Harris why he blocked him from Snapchat, to which Harris allegedly responded that he didn't think it would be a good idea to remain friends on the platform, the complaint said.
"I’m sorry for what I’ve done in the past. I don’t think it’s a good idea we be friends on Snap," Harris said, according to the complaint.
Production of child pornography is punishable by a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison and a maximum of 30 years under federal law.
Harris said in his interview with investigators that he solicited and received similar nude photos from 10 to 15 other individuals he knew were minors, according to the criminal complaint. Harris allegedly admitted to having oral and anal sex with a 15-year-old in the summer of 2019, the complaint said.
Details related to that event were not included in the complaint to protect the identity of the 15-year-old boy, who met Harris at a cheerleading event.
A 17-year-old, identified as Minor 4, told investigators that Harris was "relentless" in soliciting photos from him on Snapchat after the two met at a party this summer. He said he told Harris no repeatedly until Harris eventually offered him money, according to the complaint.
A friend, also 17, took photos of him for Minor 4 to send to Harris in exchange for money, the complaint said. Minor 4 also said he spoke with Harris over Snapchat's video calling feature in which Harris instructed him to expose himself and he agreed, the complaint said.
Harris allegedly paid the boy approximately between $2,000 and $3,000 until he ended the relationship in August, blocking Minor 4 from Snapchat and sending him a final payment of $500, the complaint said.
A civil lawsuit was filed on behalf of the twin boys, which also did not identify them, accusing Harris of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Lawyers on behalf of the boys released a statement following Harris' arrest Thursday.
"This was made possible because our clients’ mother had the courage to report Harris to the FBI as well as the Fort Worth Police Department and provided evidentiary proof of the manipulation, sexual harassment, abuse, and exploitation that her sons had suffered," the statement said.
Multiple reports surfacedMondaythat Harris was under an FBI investigation for soliciting minors. The FBI confirmed to NBC News that its officers had conducted a “court-authorized law enforcement activity” in the Naperville area on Monday.
Harris was one of the many breakout stars of the Netflix original series “Cheer,” which followed a group of student cheerleaders at Navarro College in Texas while they prepared for competition. “Cheer” quickly became a social media sensation as viewers were fascinated by the rigorous training required by the young athletes as well as their own individual stories.
Harris was beloved on social media for his “mat talk,” which is what those on the sideline scream to their fellow teammates to encourage them through difficult stunts and maneuvers. Fans also expressed sympathy for the young man upon learning that Harris’ mother died while he was still a teenager in high school.
He told NBC OUT in February that it was his "cheer family" who helped him while his mother, his primary guardian, battled lung cancer and who took him in after her death.
“They helped me out through a lot growing up,” Harris said. “Cheer is my outlook on life, and I use that as my safe place to get away from all of my other problems … they just uplifted me, and made me feel better, and just made me feel like I had support and I wasn't alone.”