WASHINGTON—Agents from military criminal investigative organizations executed arrest warrants and served summonses today on a sextortion ring for money laundering, extortion and wire fraud targeting military service members.
This is the first phase of Operation Surprise Party, an investigation initiated in January 2017 by Naval Criminal Investigative Service and also worked by the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, Army Criminal Investigation Command and Air Force Office of Special Investigations.
The military law enforcement community was aided by several partners, including the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Internal Revenue Service, United States Marshals Service, Department of Energy, South Carolina and North Carolina local agencies, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and the South Carolina Department of Corrections.
These online schemes cost 442 service members from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps from across the United States more than $560,000 in financial loss.
South Carolina inmates, aided by outside civilian associates, identified and targeted military service members through social media forums and online dating websites. The prisoners, using fictitious online personas, preyed on service members to engage in online romantic relationships and then extort the service members for money.
Prisoners in South Carolina do not shy away from using phones and social media illegally while in prison. The Facebook Page, “From Da Streetz 2 Da Pen” features live videos of South Carolina prison inmates using illicit substaces, making threats, and communicationg with the public.
In 2018, CBS News featured a cell phone video -recorded by an inmate- of a South Carolina prisoner who had been stabbed during a riot.
Inmates used various social media platforms and dating sites posing as a female, exchanging pictures with service members. After the service member responded, prisoners would then assume a role of the female’s father, who claimed the female was a juvenile. Prisoners would also assume the role of a police officer or someone in a position of authority, demanding money, on behalf of the family, in exchange for not pursuing charges through law enforcement channels.
Military members would then pay, fearful they might lose their careers over possessing what they were being led to believe was child pornography.
There are more than 250 additional people who are being investigated and face potential future prosecution.
“This despicable targeting of our brave service members will never be tolerated,” said Director Andrew Traver of Naval Criminal Investigative Service. “We will not allow criminal networks to degrade the readiness of our military force. We were able to complete this first phase because of the excellent work by all our law enforcement partners, who are dedicated to helping protect our military service members. This operation will continue until we break the back of these criminal networks.”
“The Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the criminal investigative arm of the Department of Defense – Office of Inspector General, stands ready with our military and law enforcement partners, to combat criminals who seek to extort or defraud our military service members, dependents, and DoD civilians,” said Special Agent in Charge Robert E. Craig, Jr. of the DCIS Mid-Atlantic Field Office. “Too many service members from throughout the armed services have fallen victim to this scam and these actions detract from the readiness and well-being of our warfighters.”
“With nothing more than smart phones and a few keystrokes, South Carolina inmates along with outside accomplices victimized hundreds of people,” said Daniel Andrews, Director of the Computer Crime Investigative Unit of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command. “This enforcement operation sends a clear message about our unwavering commitment to protect our nation’s service members so they can focus on their mission of winning wars and defending the American way of life. Working with our fellow federal agencies and state partners, we will continue efforts to stamp out sexual extortion impacting our communities.”
“The Air Force Office of Special Investigations is the primary federal investigative agency for serious criminal issues affecting U.S. Air Force installations and personnel worldwide,” said Air Force Colonel Kirk B. Stabler, Air Force Office of Special Investigations Commander. “Sexual extortion is a global crime that evolves as quickly as social media technology, if not faster. In this case, our partnership with our fellow military law enforcement agencies, South Carolina state law enforcement officials, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and other federal agencies, brought together key capabilities which led to this successful joint investigative operation.”
If any service members have identified suspicious activity or are being targeted by sextortion, contact a local Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Army Criminal Investigation Command or Air Force Office of Special Investigations office.