California 'Sextortion' Suspect Faces 105 Years in Federal Prison
A 27-year-old Glendale man isn't accused of touching a single person inappropriately. Yet, he is facing more than 100 years in federal prison for computer-related crimes that federal officials say amounted to "sextortion."
Chino federal criminal defense lawyer Houman Fakhimi knows that's far from a legal term. What he's actually accused of is 15 federal counts of aggravated identity theft and 15 federal counts of computer intrusion.
According to the grand jury indictment, the man is accused of hacking into the Skype, Facebook and e-mail accounts of hundreds of women. He then altered their passwords and effectively locked them out of their own accounts. He then scoured those files for photos, files or e-mails that contained nude or semi-nude photos of the account holders. He also looked for the names and passwords of those individuals' friends. He then for a time posed as the alleged victim, sending friends instant messages and talking them into removing their clothing so he could take photos of them.
When the alleged original victims learned what had happened, the suspect reportedly then used those photos to blackmail the original woman into also removing her clothing on camera.
In some cases, when the women refused, he allegedly posted nude photos of the women on their own social media pages.
Investigators are looking at potentially filing even more charges, as more women continue to come forward.
We recognize that in the vast world of the Internet, there is often a false sense of security people have in thinking that because they never personally physically harm someone, whatever charges they may face won't be as serious. This thinking couldn't be more flawed. A lot of it has to do with the fact that because the Internet's reach crosses state and global borders, crimes committed therein are often handled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Crimes prosecuted at the federal level tend to be more heavily penalized than those prosecuted at the state level.
For example, cyberstalking in California, as defined under Penal Code 646.9, carries a maximum 5 years in prison, even when charged as a felony. Meanwhile, 18 U.S.C. 1030 covering fraud and related activity in connection with computers carries a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison. (Federal law covering aggravated identity theft, 18 U.S.C. 1028A, also carries a maximum five-year prison penalty.)
These same kinds of serious charges may apply in cases of child pornography possession - even when it can be proven that you never touched a single child yourself.
Mounting a successful defense in these cases is going to require a team with extensive experience in both federal law and in the realm of technological crimes.
Some of the potential defenses (and they may not all be applicable in this case) include the possible argument that the events that unfolded were the result of consensual acts on the part of both parties. Alternatively, you may argue that any coercive threat you made wasn't actually credible. In some cases, it may come down to a lack of sufficient evidence on the part of the prosecution to prove it was in fact you behind those threats and/or actions.
Regardless of the approach, you won't be able to do it on your own.