Multiple agencies on ‘Sexstortion’ Case: Inmates using illegal cell phones to scam military members

U.S. military members around the world scammed by inmates behind bars here in South Carolina.

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO)–  U.S. military members around the world scammed by inmates behind bars here in South Carolina. Multiple agencies came together to announce this bizarre scheme and how they broke it down.

Contraband cell phones have caused the Department of Corrections director Brian Sterling headaches before, but now, authorities say inmates are using those cell phones to get on popular dating apps and con service members out of thousands of dollars.  Inmates allegedly used illegal cell phones to create fictitious online personas, posing as women seeking relationships with service members. Then, investigators say the inmates would send nude images of young women and request nude pictures.

“After service member responded, prisoners would then assume the role of the female’s father who claimed the female was a juvenile. They would also assume the role of a police officer or someone in position of authority demanding money on behalf of the family in exchange for not pursuing criminal charges through law enforcement channels,” Drew Goodridge said, a NCIS Special Agent In Charge. 

Local, state, and federal agencies are charging 15 people, both inside and outside of prison– for money laundering, wire fraud, and extortion. They say nearly 450 service members from all branches and all ranks were conned out of almost $560,000.

“Military members would then pay, fearful they might lose their careers over possessing what they believed was child pornography,” Goodridge said. 

All agencies say this is yet another example of why blocking cell phone signals in prisons is a necessary step. Now Stirling and the U.S. Marshals are demanding Washington to step out of their way.

“The technology exists, and i know it exists, to make these cellphones of no value, to make them useless. To make them nothing but a paperweight in a cell block. Dir. Stirling needs the relief and assistance from Washington D.C. to shut these cell phones down,” Thomas Griffin said, a U.S. Marshal.

Agencies say they have been working on breaking up the “sexstortion ring” since 2017. They have interviewed more than 250 people during Operation Surprise Party, and expect more indictments to come.

“They’re physically incarcerated, but as you see today, virtually they are out there among. They’re on the internet, they’re able to continue their schemes from behind bars and continue their criminal ways,” Stirling said. 

Agencies like NCIS say military members of all ranks in all military branches were targeted and they want others to come forward if they believe they are victims of this crime. 

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