Sextortion targets hundreds of women: Dunwoody predator to be se - CBS46 News

Sextortion targets hundreds of women: Dunwoody predator to be sentenced

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Source: WGCL-TV Source: WGCL-TV

It unraveled like some twisted sex-for-secrets espionage thriller, with a wannabe  spymaster from Dunwoody, Georgia using his State Department computer at a U.S. embassy job in London to blackmail more than 200 American college coeds --with sextortion.

Convicted cyberstalker Michael Ford hacked into social media accounts, then used them to threaten his victims to do what he wanted—become his recruits as virtual undercover sex spies against other unwitting young women.

A scheme perhaps best summed up by the cliché-- sex, lies and videotape.

It’s all in a 17 page, once sealed affidavit, given by a federal agent to establish probable cause, and obtained by CBS46. Prosecutors argued it should be kept secret until Ford landed at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport last May to visit family. That’s when he was arrested and charged as an online predator.

Had he known what was coming down, prosecutors feared he might turn his British resident status into a permanent stay out of jail free card. A federal judge agreed and sealed the affidavit.

The victims’ suffering is paramount to understanding the harm such predators do to the innocent and unwitting who open themselves up to such blackmail by clicking on a seemingly bonafide e-mail that’s often a phishing scam by a predator hunting passwords and other personal information.

“’The fear and anxiety that’s created by a scheme like this would be pervasive,” John Horn, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia.

He told CBS46 in an exclusive interview, “It would be every day. Another day worrying what additional shoe there is to drop.”

After stealing passwords and using them to purloin sexually explicit photos, the predator would contact his prey to let them know what he had and what he could do to humiliate and ruin their reputations—by sending their explicit photos to friends and family, or post to the world-wide web.

It’s all in the e-mails investigators obtained from victims and Ford’s computer at the Embassy where he began working in 2009, and started his scheme two years later. 

“If they didn’t meet with his demands for additional photos, for additional videos, either of themselves or of other people, that kind of thing over a period of time makes you feel tormented to give into his demands,” said Horn.

“Somehow violated?” I asked

“Absolutely violated.”

Ford posed as a member of a so-called Google account deletion team to obtain passwords. He would lie to victims by telling them the internet search engine aimed to delete their accounts if not verified.

Ford owns a home in Dunwoody, and is a 36-year-old married father of one child. After graduating from St. Pius High School in 1997, he went to Valdosta State, and later got the job with the U.S. Embassy in London, where between 2013 and 2015, he hacked away from his desk without raising any eyebrows, said investigators. 

He was unmasked after an 18 year old Kentucky woman called the local sheriff about an anonymous cyberstalker; the FBI joined the hunt, notified the State Department and an IP address was tracked to Ford’s Embassy computer.

That victim, named “Jane Doe One,”  received one e-mail demanding she “take videos of other girls” and “sexy girls” undressing in changing rooms at pools, gyms, and clothing stores, and forward risqué cache to Ford, according to the affidavit signed by Eric J. Kasik, an agent with the Department of State Diplomatic Security Service.

When one victim wanted to know how he got her e-mail and intimate photos, Ford called himself ‘a Wizard.” To prove he knew where a victim lived, he would e-mailed her saying, he liked the “red fire escape” on her building.

Horn told CBS46 that he’s concerned about “an uptick” in sextortion and “aggressively” pursues cases like Ford’s. To avoid becoming a victim, he advised anyone who receives a suspicious e-mail to delete it, and “never open them.”

In August, a federal grand jury indicted Ford on nine counts of cyberstalking, seven counts of computer hacking and one count of wire fraud. 

He plead guilty in December to all counts, and will be sentenced in Atlanta on March 24th.

At that hearing, CBS46 learned exclusively Ford’s sextortion victims could have an opportunity to detail the emotional trauma he inflicted before the federal judge weighing his sentence, and for first time confront the predator face to face, without a computer screen for him to hide behind.

Ford's lawyer, Ben Alper, a partner in the criminal defense firm of Howard J. Weintraub, both former prosecutors, told CBS46 he would be willing to comment after sentencing, but not before.

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