- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A federal judge on Monday sentenced Michael C. Ford, a former employee with the U.S. State Department, to 57 months in prison for waging a hacking scheme that allowed him to steal sexually explicit images from hundreds of women over the span of two years.

Ford, 36, pleaded guilty in December to nine counts of cyberstalking, seven counts of computer hacking to extort and one count of wire fraud in relation to a multinational, X-rated extortion, or “sextortion,” plot he conducted through May 2015 while employed by the U.S. Embassy in London.

In charging documents filed last year, federal prosecutors said Ford sent thousands of malicious emails to female targets in an effort to compromise their online accounts and steal sexually explicit photographs.

By posing as a member of an email service provider’s make-believe “account deletion team,” he tricked at least 200 women into providing him with their passwords, which he then used to access their accounts and search for images, as well as personally identifiable information.

Ford told prosecutors last year that he told at least 75 of those victims that he would publicly share their sexually-charged photos unless they coughed up more content. In a plea agreement, he admitted to following through with those threats on several occasions.

“He preyed on vulnerable victims, leaving them with indelible emotional scars. His sentence is a necessary step in holding him to account for his crimes and helping his victims move forward with their lives,” Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell said in a statement on Monday.

“Members of the public must be extremely careful about disclosing their logins and passwords to anyone, even when the person on the other end of an email or instant message appears to be legitimate,” added U.S. Attorney John A. Horn of the Northern District of Georgia.

A sentencing memorandum filed by the prosecution ahead of this week’s hearing revealed that Ford once sent roughly 800 phishing emails to potential victims in the span of a single day last April.

“Considering Ford’s daily volume, repeated over the course of several months, the number of Ford’s potential phishing victims is staggering,” Jamie Perry, a trial attorney for the prosecution, wrote in the filing.

At Monday’s hearing, U.S. District Judge Eleanor L. Ross of the Northern District of Georgia said she was “utterly disgusted” with Ford’s actions, Atlanta’s WXIA News reported.

“What I did was a low and cowardly act by a person who was desperate,” Ford told the court.

Judge Ross sentenced Ford to four years and nine months in prison, and an additional three years of supervised release once he’s released. Prosecutors had hoped for an eight-year sentence.

Ford won’t have to surrender to authorities until August, WXIA reported — a decision Judge Ross made so that Ford can witness the birth of his second son this summer.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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