SC Governor says prisoner access to cell phones has got to stop
Soldiers thought they were meeting a woman around their age on a dating app, according to a search warrant filed in Charleston federal court. But after the men started messaging with the “woman,” they received unsolicited nude photos. Then “her father” chimed in to say his “daughter” is underage and that he’ll call the police — unless the soldier sends him money.
The search warrants accuse inmates in the South Carolina Department of Corrections in what the Army calls a “sextortion” scheme that has been running since at least 2015. U.S. Army investigators filed the search warrant this month to get access to two Gmail accounts belonging to the alleged scammers.
The warrant lays out the scheme: the soldier meets a woman on a dating app, “most often PlentyofFish.” The South Carolina inmates pretend to be around the same age as the soldiers they are targeting and move out of the app to talking by text message.
The come the nude photos and the angry “father” threatening the soldier and demanding money or he will call the cops, the warrant says.
“Often the victim will pay out of the fear that they will lose their careers (our victim sets are military service members) as there are compounding issues of conduct unbecoming and the fear that the victim truly believes they are in possession of child pornography,” the warrant states.
The warrant continues, “This scheme is played out by countless prisoners housed in various facilities within the South Carolina Department of Corrections.”
Investigators say in the warrant that they identified a “money mule” who would pick up money extorted from soldiers for an inmate at Broad River Correctional Institute in Columbia, South Carolina.
The woman, Jalisa Thompson, told Army investigators that she would pick up money for a man she knew as “Dre” from a Wal-Mart Western Union and deposit it in the man’s Department of Corrections account or on prepaid credit cards. The warrants identify “Dre” as Wendell Wilkins.
There have been no charges so far, according to Daily Beast.
The military has long warned soldiers about “sextortion scams.” Earlier this year the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command Special Agent Daniel Andrews said in an online post to soldiers, “Criminals will try to get unsuspecting service members to engage in online sexual activities and then demand money or favors in exchange for not publicizing potentially embarrassing information or turning them over to law enforcement.”
The post on the Army website points to the same type of scam alleged in the warrant: “If you meet a person on a legitimate online dating site there is very little chance that you are actually communicating with an underage person,” Andrews said.
“It is therefore very unlikely that you sent or received child pornography or provided your images/videos to a minor. If you met someone online who later claims to be underage you should immediately cease all communications with that person and notify Army CID.”
Cell phones in prisons have plagued the South Carolina Department of Corrections. Prison officials said phones smuggled into Lee Correctional Institution helped a riot spread through the facility, killing seven inmates on April 15. DOC Director Bryan Stirling said he thought gang members in one part of the prison called members in other dorms, spreading the riot across the prison, The State reported at the time.
Charles Duncan: 843-626-0301, @duncanreporting