A federal grand jury will convene to determine whether or not to press charges against former congressman Anthony Weiner for sexting a 15-year-old girl, the Daily Mail reported Tuesday.
The tabloid site first broke the story several weeks ago, detailing the alleged months-long online relationship earlier this year between the then-51-year-old Weiner and the high school sophomore, complete with screenshots of sexually explicit messages and selfies of a shirtless Weiner. Among the more disturbing details, the girl alleges that Weiner sent her pornographic videos, encouraged her to engage in “rape fantasies,” and asked her to masturbate over video chat.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York Police Department opened investigations into the incident, and prosecutors in the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bahara have issued a subpoena for Weiner’s cell phone, according to CNN. If the 15-year-old’s allegations prove to be true, it would be at the discretion of the prosecutors to decide whether to prosecute the case federally or locally, either in New York, where Weiner resides, or North Carolina, the residence of the unnamed victim.
Deborah Tuerkheimer, a law professor at Northwestern University who previously worked in the New York County District Attorney’s office for five years specializing in sex crimes and child abuse, said that if Weiner is prosecuted in New York, he could plausibly be charged with promoting the sexual performance of a child or disseminating indecent material to minors, both of which are non-violent felonies which carry sentences of between one and seven years of probation. She added that prosecutors would likely also charge him with endangering the welfare of a child, which is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison or three years of probation.
Barbara Ashcroft, a professor of law at Temple University who was previously a member of the Internet Crime Against Children Task Force, a law enforcement network, said that if the allegations against Weiner are true, she would bet the high-profile case would be prosecuted federally, where the charges would bring stiffer sentences.* She said that Weiner could be charged with sexual exploitation of children, which includes “any person who employs, uses, persuades, induces, entices, or coerces any minor to engage in … any sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing any visual depiction of such conduct or for the purpose of transmitting a live visual depiction of such conduct.” If Weiner were convicted under this law, he would face between 15 and 30 years in prison.
The Daily Mail’s report is the latest in a long string of sexting scandals for Weiner, who is married to long-time Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Abedin separated from Weiner in August after the New York Post published a photo he had sent to a “40-something divorcee” of his crotch with their four-year-old son in the frame cuddled up beside him.
Weiner’s cringe-worthy crotch pics first took down his political career in 2011, when he accidentally published a photo of his crotch on Twitter that he had intended to send in a private message to another woman. That photo—along with another batch of photos published by TMZ that Weiner had taken of himself in a locker room—went viral, and he announced his resignation from Congress on June 16, 2011.Weiner attempted to run for New York City mayor in 2013—a campaign depicted in the acclaimed documentary Weiner, which debuted at Sundance in January—but came in fifth after screenshots of more sexually explicit conversations Weiner had with women on the internet surfaced, some of which had taken place after his resignation from Congress.
*Correction, October 20, 2016: This post originally misstated that Barbara Ashcroft is currently a member of the Internet Crime Against Children Task Force. Ashcroft was previously a member of that task force before joining Temple Law as an assistant professor.