A Temecula man accused of trying to extort money from a Los Angeles art gallery owner and from others with whom he did business by posting fictitious information online intended to damage the victims' reputations was arrested Wednesday by the FBI.
Jason White, 43, was federally charged Tuesday with cyber-stalking after conducting what prosecutors allege was a five-month campaign of electronic and telephonic harassment of art world professionals from whom the defendant wanted tens of thousands of dollars.
White was expected to make his initial court appearance Wednesday afternoon at U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. He's currently in FBI custody.
The convicted felon, who operates White Galleries at 41493 Margarita Road in Temecula, came under investigation last month, according to the FBI.
Agents learned that in April 2013, White had been hired to work as a contractor, selling artwork from a gallery, but relations soured between the defendant and his supervisor, culminating in his abrupt resignation on Aug. 15.
Prosecutors allege that a week later, White began a sustained stream of texts, emails and phone calls, seeking money for what he claimed would be compensation for being mistreated and losing income he otherwise would've earned on his own.
According to an arrest warrant affidavit filed by FBI Special Agent Elizabeth Rivas, White told the gallery owner, identified only as R.B., that he created several websites bearing the name of the artist whose works were managed by the gallery. White allegedly suggested that the websites could be used in a damaging way and demanded the victim pay him a $150,000 "consulting fee" as part of a "non-disclosure agreement."
When no payment was received, the defendant sent emails to a London- based art distributor, claiming that the works supplied by the L.A. gallery were fraudulent, the affidavit alleges.
White went on to regularly contact the gallery owner, the gallery manager and their family members, allegedly escalating his demands, ultimately hiking the amount of his payoff to $300,000, according to the FBI.
"I'm sure you can tell yourself I'm powerless and this means nothing. Keep up that lie and watch!" White allegedly stated in one email message, dated Sept. 5.
According to the affidavit, the defendant said his websites contained "the truth" about the gallery and were receiving numerous "hits," or views, daily.
In a Sept. 23 text message to the gallery owner, his son and the gallery's manager, White allegedly wrote, "I will break you down and take you out of the game. This (expletive) just got real ... More bombs will drop."
The defendant allegedly bragged that he had "done this before" and received an $80,000 payment, referring to dealings he had as the supposed owner of Fargo Gallery in North Dakota.
At one point, White allegedly sent messages to the gallery manager, identified only as A.S., saying he knew where she lived in Manhattan Beach.
"When I see you and your family, I'll be saying hi," according to a text cited by the FBI. Referring to the victim's young son by name, White allegedly wrote "I can't wait to see him ... A man who is not afraid of jail and has nothing left to lose becomes a very powerful thing."
According to investigators, White allegedly turned his wrath on the family of a Southern California artist who had given him works valued at $80,000 to sell on consignment. But the family had second thoughts in December when White began asking for money to help him cover his lease, investigators said.
When the victims tried to reclaim the artwork last month, White allegedly locked them out of the studio and brandished a knife, according to the FBI.
The defendant allegedly demanded $41,000 from the family.
According to the FBI, White has felony convictions for possessing controlled substances and unlawfully possessing a weapon, as well as a misdemeanor conviction for fraud.
If convicted, he could face five years in prison.
– City News Service.