New York Woman Indicted for Catfishing and Extorting ‘Wealthy and High Profile Men’

·3 min read
woman accessing the computer with white screen to add an interesting interface - Credit: Getty Images
woman accessing the computer with white screen to add an interesting interface - Credit: Getty Images

A 34-year-old New York woman is facing federal charges for a catfishing scheme in which she used multiple online identities to target rich, prominent men for extortion. Sakoya Blackwood is charged with cyberstalking, extortion, and interstate communications with the intent to extort. The most serious of the charges, extortion, carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. If convicted of all three, she could face 27 years.

According to an indictment unsealed on Wednesday, Blackwood, who also goes by Koya Blackwood Fews and Lila Cohen, among other aliases, began the alleged scheme in March of this year. By April, the FBI was investigating her. She allegedly targeted one man, in particular: an unnamed CEO of a publicly traded company, identified in documents only as Victim-1. While details of their alleged interactions are sparse, authorities claim Blackwood used online communications to elicit compromising materials from the victim, then attempted to blackmail him over the course of multiple months. “Blackwood engaged in a campaign of harassment against Victim-1, sending numerous intimidating and threatening text messages,” the U.S Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York said in a statement. “Blackwood also used threats of economic and reputational harm from the release of the sexually explicit communications and photographs in an attempt to obtain payments from Victim-1.”

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According to court documents, when Blackwood was arrested on Wednesday, authorities executed a search warrant at her home in the Bronx that she shared with her mother, her brother, and her daughter. There, they found six different ID cards. In her wallet, she had four with her photo on them: an Arizona driver’s license in the name of Louren Hennessy, a California driver’s license in the name of Susannah Forest, an Arizona driver’s license in the name of Harper Dean, and a New York City ID card in her own name. Authorities also recovered a hospital badge in the name of Jessica Bottomley, M.D., and a New York State ID in the name of Nataya Romeo. Beyond the catfishing scheme, authorities allege Blackwood used the aliases in her professional life, too. Prosecutors claim in a court filing that she used the alias Lila Cohen to apply to several jobs and has used several different addresses and educational backgrounds on her resumes.

In a filing requesting Blackwood’s detention ahead of her trial, the government said her scheme showed “sophistication and technical acumen,” as well as an ease in adopting different identities, skills the government argued she could use to flee the charges. Authorities also say Blackwood has no history of legal employment — although she told Pre-Trial Services she has $7,000 in savings — and lacks legal immigration status, having arrived in the U.S. from Jamaica in 2002 on a tourist visa.

Court documents allege Blackwood attempted to extort “numerous other potential victims — all wealthy and high profile men,” although it is unclear exactly how many beyond the one CEO. Authorities seem to believe there are more that they don’t know about. In a statement, Michael J. Driscoll, assistant director of the FBI’s New York field office, made a plea for more victims to come forward. “Most people hope for a personal human connection in life, and scam artists twist that desire into illicit schemes to steal more than hearts,” he said. “We believe Blackwood used tactics we allege in this indictment to blackmail and extort money from other victims. We are asking those people to contact us so we can help them but also to ensure no one else ever falls victim to Blackwood’s alleged deception.”

Blackwood is being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. A lawyer for her has not yet made an appearance.

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