LOS ANGELES: A former Southern California man who convinced troubled girls as young as 12 to perform masochistic acts and urged one to become his sex slave pleaded guilty to a federal charge, prosecutors said on Monday (Tuesday in Manila).

Matthew Christian Locher, 31, pleaded guilty to one count of sexual exploitation of a child for the purpose of producing a sexually explicit visual depiction, the United States attorney's office said in a statement.

In his plea agreement, prosecutors said Locher acknowledged that while living in Redondo Beach in 2020 and 2021, he got into online conversations targeting girls suffering from mental health issues, such as depression, anorexia and suicidal thoughts.

"Locher groomed his victims to engage in self-mutilation and instructed a victim struggling with an eating disorder to starve herself, ordering her to film herself cutting her body when she disobeyed him," the statement said.

Two girls sent him images of self-harm, prosecutors said.

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He convinced a third victim, who was 12, to run away from her Ohio home and attempt to reach California to have sex with him, prosecutors alleged.

Encouraged by Locher, the girl first set fire to her home in a failed bid to kill her parents, they claimed.

He had promised he would pick her up, "bring her to California and make her his 'slave,'" the US attorney's office said.

Locher moved to Indiana after authorities searched his home. He was arrested on January 10 in Indianapolis and sent back to California.

He faces 15 years to 30 years in prison when he is sentenced next January.