A Temecula man surrendered to FBI agents Thursday morning in connection with a sextortion case involving the reigning Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf, a Great Oak High School graduate, as well as several other victims.
Following a months-long investigation, Jared James Abrahams, 19, of Temecula, turned himself in at FBI offices in Orange County, FBI Spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said in a news release.
Abrahams appeared Thursday afternoon in federal court in Santa Ana, where his bail was set at $50,000.
The charge of extortion carries a statutory maximum penalty of two years in federal prison.
The investigation into Abrahams began in March, prior to Wolf, 19, being crowned Miss Teen USA in August.
According to an FBI affidavit filed in support of Abrahams’ arrest, Wolf—identified as C.W. in court papers—spoke with an FBI investigator, stating that her laptop had become compromised when she received a Facebook alert that someone was trying to reset her password.
She subsequently learned that her Twitter, Tumblr and Yahoo! passwords had been reset and that her Twitter profile picture had been changed to a half-nude photo.
About 30 minutes later, she said she received an email on her Yahoo! account containing two nude photos that she recognized as taken in her home. The photos appeared to have been taken via her webcam without her knowledge.
The lengthy FBI investigation revealed that Abrahams allegedly compromised Wolf and other victims’ computers and obtained nude photographs and or videos of the victims via remote connection to their webcams, then contacted the victims using AOL and Outlook email addresses.
Abrahams allegedly threatened to publicly disclose the victims’ nude photos and/or videos on their social media pages unless they did one of three things: sent a nude photo, sent a nude video, or logged onto Skype and did what he told them to do for five minutes.
(Sextortion is described as extortion in which the victim is blackmailed with a nude image of themselves. The person committing the sextortion threatens to release the nude image publicly unless the victim, among other things, performs a sexual act.)
In one instance, Abrahams allegedly threatened a victim that he would transform their “dream of being a model...into [the victim] being a porn star.”
In June, FBI agents served search warrants at Abrahams' residence in Temecula. They seized computers, laptops, cellphones and thumb drives, revealing evidence of hacking and malware software allegedly used to take over the victims’ computers and images and videos of some of the victims.
During the search, Abrahams allegedly admitted to infecting people’s computers with malware; watching his victims change their clothes; and using photographs against the victims.
He allegedly admitted that Wolf—they both attended Great Oak High School in Temecula—was the first victim he knew personally.
He also allegedly admitted to getting one victim to go on Skype and take her clothes off at his direction, then pretending to delete the original images he had of the victim.
“I’m downloading Skype now. Please remember I’m only 17. Have a heart,” the victim wrote, to which Abrahams allegedly responded, “I’ll tell you this right now! I do NOT have a heart!!! However I do stick to my deals! Also age doesn’t mean a thing to me!!!”
The lengthy computer forensic investigation revealed additional alleged victims in Temecula, Woodland Hills, Maryland, Ireland, Canada, Russia and elsewhere.
Using "trap and trace" devices that backtracked to Internet Protocol addresses and virtual private networks allegedly utilized by the defendant—who used the online handle "cutefuzzypuppy"—in contacting the victims, investigators were able to identify him, according to court papers.
Abrahams allegedly told an FBI investigator that he was a freshman in college studying computer science because he was good at it.
At the time of that interview, Abrahams allegedly had about 30 to 40 "slave computers"—those that he had allegedly hacked into and controlled remotely— and had had as many as 100 to 150 in the past.
Abrahams was released from custody late Thursday—confined to his home and required to wear a GPS monitor. He will also be prohibited from using any computers except for school work.
He is due back in court for possible arraignment on Nov. 4.
Abrahams' attorney, Alan Eisner, said after today's hearing that his client has been diagnosed with autism.
The defendant's family, who were in court, "want to express their profound regret and remorse for his behavior," Eisner said. "They acknowledge the harm to the victims and the victims' families."
Abrahams has received some treatment for his autism before the alleged incidents took place, "but to the level he apparently needs," Eisner said.
U.S. District Judge Jean Rosenbluth struggled with fashioning terms of the defendant's release because of his computer skills and how "ubiquitous" Internet-connected devices have become.
"What he did was very serious," the judge said, adding that it amounted to "world-wide compromising of minors' privacy."
Abrahams' mother told the judge she's home all day and can keep an eye on her son. His father pledged to get rid of all computers in the home.
"The defendant was released on intensive pretrial supervision and home detention with electronic monitoring," Eimiller said, noting that his parents each signed for a $25,000 appearance bond.
The judge was "very thorough in reviewing the conditions," the FBI spokeswoman said. "There was significant discussion surrounding whether any computer use should be permitted given he is a computer science student and the conduct in the case.
"Judge Rosenbluth ultimately elected to allow him to use one desktop computer at his parents' home for school purposes—only after pretrial installs a monitoring software tomorrow."
The FBI is continuing its investigation.
Anyone who believes they may have been a victim in this case should contact the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office at 310-477-6565.
Assistance was provided during the investigation by the Temecula Police Department and the Baltimore Police Department, Eimiller said.
This is a developing story; please revisit this link for updates on Abrahams’ arrest and the charges against him.
Editor’s Note: The outcome of these allegations, as well as the facts, may change as the case progresses through the legal system. Not all details of each investigation are made public. All items are alleged to have occurred. There should be no assumption of guilt.
—City News Service contributed to this report.