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SC Prison “Sextortion” Scandal Draws Federal Charges

Multi-pronged investigation heating up …

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The United States attorney for the state of South Carolina – Sherri Lydon – announced multiple federal indictments this week in connection with a prison “sextortion” scam targeting members of the U.S. military.

Fifteen indictments – including five against S.C. Department of Corrections (SCDC) inmates – were announced by Lydon at a press conference in Columbia, S.C. on Wednesday.  According to prosecutors, SCDC prisoners and their accomplices targeted nearly 450 military personnel – scamming them out of more than $560,000.

Officers and enlisted men from all branches of the service were reportedly caught up in the scam.

A month ago, reporter Kelly Weill with The Daily Beast reported on the existence of an ongoing probe initiated by the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Command.  This investigation focused on an alleged “sextortion” scam run by inmates housed in various SCDC facilities – as well as accomplices outside of the prison system.

Weill’s report indicated the scam began in 2015.

How did it work?  After initiating correspondence, prisoners would allegedly send their “marks” – unsuspecting military personnel – an unsolicited nude picture of a young girl.  Shortly thereafter, another prisoner (using a separate phone) would allegedly send the soldier a message pretending to be the angry father of the girl – insisting upon payment lest he go to the authorities with the “evidence.”

According to a warrant application submitted in federal court by army investigators earlier this year, “after several hours to several days of texting, the subject will either send unsolicited nude images of a female to the victim and/or agree to trade sexually explicit images with the victim.”

“The ‘father’ then notifies the victim that the female is under the age of 18,” the warrant continued.  “The father will typically state that he will leave law enforcement out of the equation if the victim agrees to pay for various things like cell phone replacement, counseling, hospital treatments, etc.”

“Runners” allegedly aided and abetted the prisoners, facilitating the transfer of money between the soldiers and the inmates.

Awful … and yet brilliant.

“We don’t know whether to be outraged by these scammers … or impressed by their ingenuity,” we noted in our original treatment of this issue.

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Not surprisingly, the “sextortion” scam has revived a contentious debate over cell phones in prisons, which state officials have been trying for years to “jam.”

As we noted in a story last fall, prepaid phones and prepaid phone minutes constitute a multi-billion dollar annual industry – one that encompasses virtually all extra-legal prison usage.  The wireless companies don’t want to part with this revenue, which is why federal officials beholden to them have rebuffed calls from SCDC director Bryan Stirling and others hoping to jam cell phone signals inside correctional facilities.

Law enforcement sources we spoke with say the “sextortion” scam is yet another reason to move forward with cell phone jamming.

“This case illustrates again the impact of cell phones in prisons,” one source told us. “It is past time we took action.”

Developing …

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