Ex-State Dept. Worker Sentenced For Massive 'Sextortion' Scheme

An ex-State Department worker was sentenced to nearly five years in prison Tuesday for operating a massive hacking and "sextortion" scheme out of the U.S. Embassy in London, federal prosecutors said.

The operation often targeted young women — some of whom were American college students — the Justice Department said in a statement. In December, Michael C. Ford, 36, pleaded guilty to 17 counts of cyberstalking, hacking and wire fraud.

The United States Embassy in Grosvenor Square in central London. ALASTAIR GRANT / AP file

Ford, a married father from Atlanta, began working in administrative support at the embassy in 2009. Between 2013 and 2015, he admittedly ran a "campaign designed to force victims to provide Ford with personal information as well as sexually explicit videos," the statement said.

Pretending to belong to an "account deletion team" for an email service provider, the statement said, Ford fired off thousands of emails that contained a stern warning: if a password wasn't provided, the account would be deleted.

The scheme worked, according to prosecutors. Ford hacked "at least" 450 email and social media accounts belonging to some 200 victims, the statement said. After collecting whatever sexually explicit photos and other personal information Ford could find, he contacted 75 of the women, "threatening to release those photos unless they took and sent him sexually explicit videos of 'sexy girls' undressing in changing rooms at pools, gyms and clothing stores," the statement said.

If the women didn't comply, Ford — who had a "particular focus" on sorority members and aspiring models — the statement said, "escalated" his threats.

"For example, Ford admitted that he wrote in one e-mail 'don't worry, it's not like I know where you live, followed by another e-mail with her home address and threatened to post her photographs to an 'escort/hooker website' along with her phone number and home address," the statement said. "On several occasions, Ford followed through with his threats, sending his victims' sexually explicit photographs to family members and friends."

Ford also ran a related scheme where he posed as a model scout and obtained personal information and nude photos for "fictitious modeling opportunities," the statement said.