TEMECULA – A Temecula man who perpetrated an online “sextortion” scheme targeting women and girls, including Miss Teen USA, was sentenced to 18 months behind bars today by a federal judge in Orange County.
Jared James Abrahams, 20, pleaded guilty in November to extortion. An FBI investigation last year revealed he had contacted multiple victims worldwide with threats of distributing revealing snapshots, obtained illegally, unless they yielded to his various sexually oriented demands.
Abrahams will have to serve at least 85 percent of his sentence. U.S. District Judge James Selna also ordered that upon his release, Abrahams will be placed on three years of restrictive supervised release, including restrictions on his computer use, which must be approved by his probation officer. Abrahams also will undergo mental health treatment, and was ordered to stay away from the victims, Selna said.
Abrahams, who has been free on bail, must report for prison by June 16. Selna recommended he be placed in a ”camp-like” minimum-security prison near his family.
Abrahams apologized for his crimes, but was repeatedly interrupted by a disapproving Selna when the defendant identified one of the victims, the reigning Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf.
”First off, I send out my sympathies to Miss Cassidy, her mother…” Abrahams said before Selna cut him off and ordered the name struck from the court record.
”I understand nothing I say will take back the fear and pain I brought to” the victims, Abrahams said, reading from a prepared statement.
He emphasized he did not want to minimize his crimes.
”I did what I did and I must live with my actions,” Abrahams said, adding he wanted to express his ”immense sorrow.”
Abrahams said he has benefited from a therapeutic program for adults with autism at UCLA and is enrolled in another one at Loma Linda University Medical Center.
The therapy ”has been very helpful to me in learning new ways to make friends,” Abrahams said. ”Everything I did was to have a feeling of a sense of involvement.”
Abrahams’ parents also apologized for their son’s behavior. The defendant’s mother said her son has been diagnosed with the maturity of a 12- year-old and has long had issues relating to others.
”I don’t think anyone can understand how lonely he’s been for 20 years,” Abrahams’ mother told Selna.
The defendant’s father said his son was first diagnosed with autism in the fourth grade. Until recently, there weren’t many programs to help older children diagnosed with autism, the parents said.
Wolf’s mother told Selna how she and her family felt terrorized by the extortion.
”There are no words to describe what you did to my daughter,” Wolf’s mother said to the defendant. ”Please, your honor, it was terrifying beyond words… I’ll never forget my daughter’s cries for help.”
The single mom said the defendant threatened the beauty pageant winner with a ”countdown clock” on her computer.
”We lived in terror because Mr. Abrahams said he would come to our home or send stalkers to our home,” Wolf’s mother said, adding the family ”jumped” every time the doorbell rang when they were not expecting company.
Abrahams also sent 30 or 40 emails the first time he made contact with Wolf, threatening to ruin her reputation and ”turn you into a porn star,” according to the victim’s mother.
Abrahams made good on his threat, posting lewd photos of the victim, the victim’s mother said.
”She was a minor and he was an adult at the time,” she said. ”That’s child pornography and I consider Jared Abrahams a sexual predator.”
The victim’s mother implored Selna to order the defendant to be placed on a ”Megan’s Law” list, but the judge said the defendant was not charged with child pornography or any related crimes.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Vibhav Mittal advocated for a 21-month sentence, but after the hearing he said he agreed with Selna that the defendant’s mental health and age justified the lesser sentence.
Selna, however, said, ”I don’t think autism is an excuse for his actions.”
Abrahams must be incarcerated instead of the home confinement his attorney, Alan Eisner, advocated, because ”he made life hell for the (victims),” Selna said.
The punishment must also deter other hackers, Selna said.
”I need to also realize Mr. Abrahams is a human being, he has potential and the various techniques he used to attack (the victims) suggests to me he has an innate ability that can take him a long way if harnessed correctly,” Selna said.
Beginning last year and continuing through June, the freshman computer science major gained access to computers, email accounts and the social media accounts of his victims to obtain photos of them, sometimes nude, that were taken from webcams, according to the plea agreement.
Abrahams threatened to embarrass the victims, including Wolf, by posting nude photos of them online if they did not agree to have online video phone conversations with him or send him more lewd photos of themselves, according to court papers.
The defendant ”extorted at least 12 young women in their late teens or early twenties in this manner,” the plea agreement states.
The victims, who are identified only by their initials in the agreement, were particularly vulnerable because of their age, ”and at least one of the victims, C.W., was vulnerable to defendant’s threats because she was a model,” according to the agreement.
Some victims hailed from as far away as Ireland and Canada, authorities said.