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Jerry Harris pleads guilty in federal child pornography case

Jerry Harris, the former star of Netflix's "Cheer" docuseries, pleaded guilty in federal court on Thursday to one count of receiving child pornography and one count of traveling with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct, the U.S. Attorney's Office confirmed to CBS Chicago. The 22-year-old has been held in a federal detention facility without bond since he was arrested in September 2020. 

Harris pleaded guilty to persuading a 17-year-old to send him sexually explicit photographs for money and the other stemming from a trip he took to Florida for the purpose of "engaging in illicit sexual conduct" with a 15-year-old, the Associated Press reports. A plea agreement led prosecutors to drop the remaining five federal counts brought against Harris.

"We are grateful that the U.S. Attorney and the FBI investigated this case, located additional victims and took action," victims' attorney Sarah Klein said in a statement to CBS News. "Now, Jerry Harris' guilt has been firmly established. This was made possible because our clients' mother, Kristen initially had the courage to report Harris to the FBI and provided evidentiary proof of the manipulation, sexual harassment, abuse, and exploitation that her sons had suffered."

In the same statement, Klein asked authorities to open an investigation into the U.S. All Star Federation, Varsity Spirit and Cheer Athletics to see if there are others who could have prevented Harris' alleged conduct. 

Born Jeremiah Harris, he rose to fame when he and his teammates were featured in the Emmy-award winning docuseries "Cheer," which follows the lives of the Navarro cheer squad. Harris even attended the Academy Awards as a personality for "The Ellen DeGeneres Show."

Oprah Winfrey speaks with the stars of Netflix's Cheers, (L-R) Monica Aldama, Jerry Harris, Gaby Butter, Lexi Brumback, TT Baker and Dillion Brandt during Oprah's 2020 Vision: Your Life in Focus Tour presented by WW  Suzanne Corderio/AFP via Getty Images

However, following a lengthy FBI investigation, he was arrested in September 2020 and charged with one count of producing child pornography. 

The federal complaint alleged Harris contacted a minor in 2018 and requested "face" and "booty" pictures, even after the minor told him he was 13 years old. In the complaint, the minor said he sent Harris dozens of photos over more than a year. The minor also told investigators that Harris cornered him in a bathroom at a cheerleading competition and tried to solicit him for oral sex. 

The minor refused, even after Harris allegedly made the same request at another competition three months later. In February 2020, one month after "Cheer" was released on Netflix, Harris allegedly blocked the minor on Snapchat and sent him a message saying, "I'm sorry for what I've done in the past. I don't think it's a good idea that we be friends on snap." 

A second minor, and Minor 1's twin, also accused Harris of requesting nude photos. 

In the complaint, investigators said Harris admitted to multiple allegations, including asking for nude photos, trying to solicit oral sex at cheerleading events and receiving child pornography from 10 to 15 other children he knew were underage. 

In December 2020, Harris was indicted on seven additional counts that allege he solicited sex from minors at cheerleading competitions and worked to get young boys to send him photographs and videos. 

In the latest season of "Cheer," the two minors listed in the first federal complaint revealed themselves as twin cheerleaders Charlie and Sam. Both twins described being hesitant to speak out against Harris because of his growing popularity, but Charlie, who identified himself as Minor 1, said that after watching him speak with then-presidential candidate Joe Biden in a June 2020 interview, he "lost it" and knew he had to do something. 

"I want to show to the world, give people a face to, when they think of Jerry Harris, what he did," Charlie said. 

"This was not just a handful of times that this happened," Kristen, Charlie and Sam's mother, told CBS Chicago. "He was an incredibly persistent predator that forced himself into the center of my son's lives for over a year."

Harris' next hearing is currently scheduled for June 28, where a judge will announce his sentence. Harris now faces a maximum sentence of 50 years in prison. 

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