US man pleads no contest for extorting official with explicit photos

Book (middle) contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on Nov 12, after someone sent her several explicit photos and threatened to ruin her political career by releasing them to the public. — AP

MIAMI: A South Florida man pleaded no contest Wednesday to charges related to trying to get US$5,000 (RM21,992) from a state senator after threatening to release what he said were sexually explicit photos of her.

Jeremy Kamperveen, 20, of Plantation, entered an open plea in Broward County circuit court, according to court records. He was facing charges of extortion, unlawful use of a two-way device and cyberstalking. The open plea means he has no deal with prosecutors, and his attorney, Michael Heise, said Kamperveen faces up to 21 years in prison at a July 19 sentencing hearing.

Kamperveen was arrested in November. A Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report didn't identify the victim, but Florida Sen. Lauren Book, whose district includes part of Broward County, released a statement several weeks later saying the threatening messages had been sent to her.

“I became the victim of ongoing sexual harassment and extortion,” Book said in December. “I immediately notified law enforcement and began working closely with them to track those responsible for sending threatening and disturbing images and messages to my phone, including distorted, fake and stolen images created in an effort to intimidate, threaten, and extort me.”

Book is leader of the Senate Democratic Caucus and a longtime advocate for victims of child abuse and sexual abuse. She leads a group called Lauren’s Kids. Book did not immediately have a comment on Kamperveen’s plea, but her spokeswoman said Book and her husband will be providing victim impact statements at next month's hearing.

According to the arrest report, Book contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on Nov 12, after someone sent Book several explicit photos and threatened to ruin her political career by releasing them to the public. An undercover agent took over communication with the unidentified person and eventually negotiated to pay the person US$4,000 (RM17,594) in cash, down from an initial US$5,000 (RM21,992) demand, in exchange for watching the person delete the photos. A meeting was set for Nov 17 at a Sunrise Starbucks, where agents arrested the person and identified him as Kamperveen.

Kamperveen confessed to sending the messages and photos to Book, officials said. During a search of Kamperveen’s phone, agents reported finding the messages, as well as a folder containing photos and videos of Book. During the investigation, Book said she learned the images, including video of her and her husband, were being sold and traded online.

The state senator’s experience led to her sponsoring legislation this past spring that would make it a felony to buy, sell or trade stolen sexually explicit images from someone’s phone or other digital devices. It would also make disseminating altered or created sexually explicit images, known as deepfakes, a felony, and strengthen child pornography, revenge porn and bestiality laws. The bill passed unanimously in the Florida House and the Florida Senate, and it is awaiting the governor’s signature. – AP

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