James S. Allen, 36, of New Baltimore, Mich., has been arrested and charged by criminal complaint with cyberstalking, trafficking in computer passwords, and making harassing telephone calls.
The charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron J. Mango, who is handling the case, said, according to the complaint, between June 24, 2012, and Aug. 14, 2012, Allen used the Internet and text messages to communicate with at least 10 women in the Western District of New York, many of them minors, in an effort to obtain pornographic pictures of them. The complaint alleges Allen would contact the victims and tell them that he found naked pictures of them on the internet. The defendant then directed the women to a specific website to view the pictures. In reality, the website was a front by which the defendant sought to surreptitiously obtain the victim's private email address and password - such a site is sometimes referred to by law enforcement as a "phishing" website.
Once the targeted woman put in the requested information, the woman's personal email addresses and passwords went straight to the defendant via the internet. The defendant thereafter seized control of the victim's email accounts, contacted the victims and threatened that if they did not engage in a Skype video chat with him, he would distribute naked photos of the victims over the Internet. Once a woman and the defendant logged onto Skype, the defendant utilized the screen name "shhh.shhh," Allen demanded the women take their clothes off and engage in sexual conduct, with the further threat that naked pictures of them would be sent out to all of Western New York if the girl did not comply. As a result of the defendant's repeated and sustained harassment of the victims, many victims suffered substantial emotional distress.
Smith was charged Tuesday at his home in New Baltimore, Mich. Allen will appear in federal court in Michigan for a detention hearing. Following those proceedings, an appearance will be scheduled in the Western District of New York.
"This case is another example of why it is imperative for parents to be vigilant in monitoring the computer usage of their children, and for any user of the Internet - including children - to be aware of some of the threats which exist online," said U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. "In general, do not provide personal identifying information over the internet unless the website is already known to be trustworthy. Further tips regarding online safety can by be found by visiting www.netsmartz.org or www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/parent-guide. Finally, if you believe that you or someone you know may have had contact with the defendant, or a user on Skype with the screen name "shhh.shhh," please call the U.S. Attorney's Office at 1-800-320-0682 and leave a message with your contact information."
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by United States Attorneys' Offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov.
The arrest is the culmination of an investigation on the part of Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, under the direction of Christopher M. Piehota, special agent-in-charge.