15 people from South Carolina and North Carolina are facing multiple charges after investigators say inmates used online dating sites to blackmail military members for money.
The United States Attorney’s Office along with the Naval Criminal Investigative Services and the United States Marshals Service were just a few of the agencies at the SC Department of Corrections’ Broad River Campus Wednesday morning. Investigators said inmates have been using contraband cell phones to target military men and women.
“Catfishing” is the slang term for pretending to be someone else online and several South Carolina inmates have been indicted for doing just that.
A special agent with the Carolinas branch of NCIS explained what exactly the inmates have been doing behind bars.
“The prisoners using fictitious personas targeted service members to engage in online romantic relationships,” said Drew Goodridge, NCIS.
The prisoners pretended to be women online as part of a dating scheme investigators are calling “Operation Surprise Party.”
The United States Attorney for SC, Sherri Lydon, handed out copies of 5 indictments for 15 people involved in the scam.
Lydon broke down how the inmates were able to get money from members of the military.
“After the exchange of the pictures the inmate would call the servicemen claiming to be the father of the woman and claim the woman was underage and that unless the servicemen paid him some money he would notify military authorities.”
Investigators say 442 servicemen from all military branches across the country had been targeted since 2017. 250 additional people are being investigated and could face prosecution for extortion, wire fraud, and money laundering.
The agencies investigating and prosecuting the “sextortion” ring say this type of scheme is unacceptable.
Goodridge added, “Anyone who targets our military service members will be investigated and pursued for criminal prosecution. we value the safety of our service men and women and will use every resource to make sure these criminal networks are destroyed.”
In total, more than $560,000 have been extorted from the victims. The maximum sentence for these charges is 20 years and a fine of $500,000.
Inmates being charged include Rakeem Spivey, Antwine Matthews, Wendell Wilkins, David Dempsey, and Jimmy Dunbar, Jr. All were inmates with SCDC at the time of the scheme.