California man pleads guilty in Miss Teen USA extortion case

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 12, 2013 6:30 PM

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A California college student pleaded guilty on Tuesday to hacking into the webcams of teenage girls and young women, including this year's Miss Teen USA, and secretly taking nude pictures of them to use in an extortion scheme.

Jared James Abrahams, a 19-year-old former high school classmate of Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf, pleaded guilty to hacking and extortion during a hearing in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, California.

Wolf, who is also 19, came forward earlier this year to say that she had been victimized by Abrahams, whom she remembered from her high school in the community of Temecula, some 85 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

Abrahams faces a maximum of 11 years in federal prison when he is sentenced in March, but a plea agreement with prosecutors calls for a term of between 27 and 33 months.

"He did accept responsibility for his conduct, so at this point it's up to the court to decide what a fair sentence is, and both sides will have input into that process," Assistant U.S. Attorney Vib Mittal, who prosecuted the case, said after the hearing.

In a 22-page, criminal complaint filed in September, prosecutors said Abrahams hacked into and compromised the web cameras on his victims' computers and used 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, prosecutors say.

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!!!"

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Mittal said that 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.

Abrahams' defense lawyer, Alan Eisner, could not immediately be reached for comment following the hearing. Eisner has previously said that his client wanted to accept responsibility for his actions and apologize to his victims.

The attorney has said that Abrahams was on the autism spectrum, which "affects his ability to engage in reciprocal communications."

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Leslie Gevirtz)