Jerry Harris, a fan favorite on the Emmy-nominated Netflix documentary series “Cheer,” was arrested and charged with production of child pornography in a federal court in Chicago on Thursday.
Prosecutors said Mr. Harris repeatedly enticed a 13-year-old boy to produce sexually explicit videos and photos of himself and send them to Mr. Harris.
In an interview with law enforcement officials on Monday, the complaint says, Mr. Harris, 21, admitted to asking for and receiving child pornography from at least 10 to 15 individuals he knew were minors. He also admitted to having sex with a 15-year-old at a cheerleading event in 2019.
A representative for Mr. Harris did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Harris appeared in federal court in Chicago Thursday afternoon. He stood in front of M. David Weisman, a U.S. magistrate judge, in gray pants and a maroon button-down shirt, with his hands clasped behind his back.
Mr. Harris responded “yes” when Mr. Weisman asked him if he understood the charge against him. He was also asked if he was taking any controlled substance or prescriptions, to which he responded that he was not.
After the 15-minute hearing, Mr. Harris was handcuffed and escorted out by a U.S. marshal.
An in-person hearing for Mr. Harris will occur on Monday at 10:30 a.m., Christopher Parente, a prosecutor in the case, said. Mr. Parente told the court that the government believes Mr. Harris is a “danger to the community.” The judge ordered Mr. Harris held in custody until the Monday hearing.
Production of child pornography carries a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison and a maximum of 30 years.
A lawyer for Mr. Harris, Todd Pugh, left the courthouse without commenting.
Mr. Harris was sued in Texas on Monday by two of the boys, twin brothers who say he sent and requested sexually explicit messages via text and social media and asked one of the them for sex at a cheerleading competition. The boys are not named in the lawsuit or the complaint because they are minors.
According to the criminal complaint from the Chicago investigation, one of the boys who filed the lawsuit sent Mr. Harris more than a dozen photographs and videos of his genitals at Mr. Harris’s request, between December 2018 and March 2020. The boy said in the complaint that he told Mr. Harris he was 13 years old in their first online encounter, and that Mr. Harris sent photos of his own genitals, as well as videos of himself masturbating.
The same boy said Mr. Harris asked him for oral sex in a bathroom at a cheerleading competition they both attended.
Officials said that in the Monday interview, Mr. Harris admitted to asking the boy for explicit photos, sending photos of himself and requesting oral sex, and said he knew the boy was 13. He said he sent a text message to the second boy from the lawsuit asking if he was interested in engaging in sexual acts.
The boys’ mother discovered the messages in February, the complaint says, including explicit photos and a video that the boy told her was Mr. Harris. She said she told her son to delete the photos and videos, which he did.
The second boy who filed the suit against Mr. Harris said that Mr. Harris was “touchy” and did “odd things” to him and his brother, and that Mr. Harris had requested nude photos from him via Snapchat. The second boy said he refused all of Mr. Harris’s requests, as well as a request for an in-person sexual encounter.
Law enforcement officials interviewed two 17-year-olds on Tuesday who had contacted them regarding Mr. Harris. One of the teenagers said he met Mr. Harris at a party this summer, at which he told Mr. Harris he was 17. He said Mr. Harris later messaged him on Snapchat and asked for photos, the complaint said. He said he did not send any then, but weeks later, he did send Mr. Harris photos in exchange for money, which was sent by an electronic payment application.
The first teenager then told the other teenager about Mr. Harris’s request and the second teenager took photos of himself, which he told the first boy he could send to Mr. Harris.
Mr. Harris later paid one teenager $500 for a video call in which the teenager exposed himself, the complaint said. The boy said Mr. Harris continued to message him throughout the summer and paid him $2,000 to $3,000 before sending him $500 on Aug. 22 to end the relationship and block him on Snapchat.
USA Today had reported on Monday that the F.B.I. was investigating allegations that Mr. Harris asked for sex and nude photos from the brothers who filed the lawsuit, and who are now 14, whom he met at a cheerleading competition.
The lawsuit said that Mr. Harris “violated his role as a mentor, trainer, coach, sexually violated the Plaintiffs, and used his position of authority and power over the Plaintiffs.” Mr. Harris befriended the boys when he was 19.
“We are grateful that the U.S. Attorney and the F.B.I. have taken swift action to protect children by investigating, arresting and charging Jerry Harris,” Morgan Stewart and Sarah Klein, lawyers for the boys, said in a statement on Thursday.
Three organizations were also named as defendants in the lawsuit in Texas — United States All Star Federation, Varsity Spirit and Cheer Athletics. The lawyers for the boys said they hoped the authorities would investigate the organizations “to determine which of their executives, employees and representatives could have stopped Harris’s abuse and failed to do so.”
Cheer Athletics said this week that Mr. Harris was strictly an athlete participant, and that his affiliation with it ended at the National Cheerleaders Association Nationals competition on March 1, 2020.
The U.S. All Star Federation said it could not comment because of the ongoing litigation. Varsity Spirit did not reply to a request for comment.
Mr. Harris, who was a member of the cheerleading team at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas, gained acclaim on the Netflix series for his upbeat attitude and spirited pep talks.
“Like everyone we are shocked by this news,” a Netflix spokeswoman said on Thursday. “Any abuse of minors is a terrible crime and we respect the legal process.”
Robert Chiarito contributed reporting from Chicago.