By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A California college student who admitted hacking into the webcams of teenage girls and young women, including the 2013 Miss Teen USA, to take nude pictures of them as part of an extortion scheme was sentenced on Monday to 18 months in federal prison.
The case made headlines after the young beauty queen, Cassidy Wolf, came forward to say that Jared James Abrahams, who had been her classmate at a high school in Temecula, California, had victimized her.
Abrahams, 20, who pleaded guilty in November to extortion and computer hacking, was sentenced during a hearing in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana at which he apologized to the victims and "acknowledged the violation and the severity of his conduct," defense lawyer Alan Eisner said.
Eisner said Abrahams' parents also spoke at the hearing, asking the judge to take into account their son's age and struggles with Asperger's syndrome.
"Certain people are motivated by different things, and Jared's motivation we believe was not meant to be predatory or evil," Eisner said. "We will acknowledge that that is the result, but his motivation was substantially to have social connections he was simply incapable of having."
In a 22-page criminal complaint filed by prosecutors in September, Abrahams was accused of hacking into the web cameras on his victims' computers and using them to take pictures while they were naked or undressed in the room.
Abrahams then contacted the girls or young women and threatened to post the pictures on their social media accounts unless they sent more, or undressed for him on Skype.
According to the criminal complaint, when one of the victims, a 17-year-old girl from Ireland, told Abrahams that she was downloading Skype to comply with his demands but asked him to "have a heart" because of her age, he responded: "I'll tell you this right now! I do NOT have a heart!!!"
In addition to the 12 girls listed in the criminal complaint, at least one as young as 16, Abrahams hacked into the computers of some 100 to 150 other people, prosecutors say.
"As digital devices, email accounts, and social media accounts now contain the most intimate details of the public's daily lives, the impact of this type of hacking and extortion becomes more pronounced, troubling, and far-reaching," federal prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum in the case.
"In some cases, this type of criminal behavior can be life-changing for the victims - especially for vulnerable victims who may feel it is impossible to rebuild their tarnished reputations," prosecutors said in the court papers.
Abrahams faced up to 11 years in federal prison if convicted of all of the charges against him at trial.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and James Dalgleish)