A 20-year-old Ohio State University student whose laptop was stolen late last year became the subject of an extortion attempt traced to St. Paul and committed by someone who sent increasingly menacing e-mails threatening to put nude photos and videos of the student from her laptop on the Internet.
Now Demonte Johntrell Latimore, a six-time felon from St. Paul, is being held in jail on federal weapons charges while authorities investigate him for alleged extortion in connection with the stolen laptop.
On Dec. 5, the college sophomore reported that someone had stolen her Apple MacBook when she took a study break in the library on the Newark, Ohio, campus. Two weeks later, she began receiving disturbing e-mails demanding hundreds of dollars to keep the sender from posting her private photos online.
The incident illustrates what can happen when computers, hard drives, cellphones, flash drives or anything with a digital storage device falls into the wrong hands. Current statistics on the theft of mobile computer devices are hard to come by. But news stories over the past couple of years have cited a rash of thefts on university and college campuses. One company that makes security software for laptops said last summer that college campuses now rank third among the most common places for laptop thefts.
The Ohio State student said she realized she had a bigger problem than a missing laptop when she received an e-mail from a stranger: "Well you don't know me but I'm sure I have something you want very badly back. The question is how BAD.....?? Oh yeah, you have a very lovely body," it said.
According to the FBI's Cyber Crime Task Force in Minneapolis, the e-mail came from iwant email@example.com, which traced back to a St. Paul address. Another, similar e-mail arrived in the woman's inbox from firstname.lastname@example.org, which traced back to the same address, according to a recently filed federal search warrant.
The e-mails kept coming, with the tone growing more menacing.
Someone apparently hacked into a password-protected folder on the laptop and found nude photos of the woman, a pre-med student, along with videos of her having sex with her boyfriend, according to a sworn statement filed by FBI special agent Robert Blackmore.
In a series of e-mails sent between Feb. 27 and March 8, the anonymous writer in St. Paul demanded cash, threatening to send the images and videos to the university, to porn sites, to social networking sites and to the student's friends and family.
"I was unbelievably scared," the student said in an interview Thursday. The Star Tribune agreed not to identify her because of alleged threats to her life.
The woman said she considered the images personal, and never considered that a stranger might see them, especially because she protected them with a password. She said she may have been naive, because she grew up in relative safety in Fargo, N.D., and Wooster, Ohio.
It shocked her that someone would reach out to her directly, she said.
According to the FBI, the suspect sent her a menacing chat message.
"Are U TRYING TO PLAY ME," the writer asked, demanding to know why she hadn't sent any money.
The woman replied, "noo ure scarying me. I'm trying to come up with the money don't post those pictures."
The woman said she could scrape together only $400, but her tormentor demanded more.
The trail eventually led federal investigators to Latimore, who had been released from custody of the Minnesota Department of Corrections one week after the laptop disappeared.
Latimore, 24, has convictions of burglaries and car thefts, and St. Paul police were looking for him in February in connection with a series of armed robberies. But it was a stolen Toyota that led authorities to Latimore.
St. Paul police found the missing vehicle March 8 and watched him take photos of it with a cellphone, then enter a library at Metropolitan State University, according to a warrant filed in Ramsey County District Court. Police arrested him there and recovered a handgun from his pocket.
Latimore was charged with illegal possession of the gun. He also remains the subject of a St. Paul police investigation of a scheme in which stolen cars were being sold on Craigslist, a spokesman said.
According to the FBI, police took screen shots of the Metro State library computer that Latimore was using when he was arrested. It shows an exchange between the Ohio State student and email@example.com that appears to reflect an extortion attempt.
"I hope u see the Facebook page I created," bigmoneyyt said. "This is becus u playin games ... I want my money 2day or the strike 2 is [your] address book ... and don't tell me you aint wiring my [expletive] money bitch...u gonna do what the [expletive] I say or im gonna ruin your [expletive] life...one pic and video at a time."
Later that day, the FBI discovered 35 nude photos and a sex video of the student in a Facebook profile labeled, "Payme Forsilence." Facebook took down the profile within hours of being notified, Blakemore said.
A search of the apartment where Latimore had been living turned up the missing laptop.
Latimore was indicted April 3 by a federal grand jury on a charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm, and of possessing a firearm in a school zone. He's being held without bail on that charge. Meantime, the federal investigation is continuing, according to the U.S. attorney's office.
The student said she's learned a lot about computer security and personal privacy from her ordeal. She no longer keeps anything personal on her new laptop, and she keeps a close eye on it out in public.
When she found a mug shot of Latimore on the Internet, she said, "it scared me a lot to think he tried to get to know me, and in such a private way. It's kind of like a feeling of violation."
Dan Browning 612-673-4493