Two inmates charged in 'sextortion' plot that drove young Army veteran to kill himself

By NELSON OLIVEIRA | New York Daily News | Published: May 13, 2019

NEW YORK (Tribune News Service) — Two South Carolina prison inmates have been charged in a “sextortion” scam that led to the suicide of a 24-year-old U.S. Army veteran.

Jared Johns, a father of two, killed himself on Sept. 11, 2018, after he was blackmailed by men pretending to be the parents of an underage girl who had sent him illicit photographs.

Greenville Police Chief Ken Miller announced Friday that a months-long investigation led authorities to John William Dobbins, 59, and Carl Richard Smith, 43 — two inmates at Lee Correctional Institution, a maximum-security facility near Bishopville, S.C.

“We now know that at the time of his death Jared was the victim of a blackmail scheme orchestrated by inmates in a South Carolina prison, which created sufficient mental anguish to cause Jared to believe that he was going to be accused of a serious crime with lifelong implications,” Miller said at a news conference.

The inmates, pretending to be the parents of a 17-year-old girl, demanded $1,189 from Johns so they wouldn’t go to the police, the chief said.

The two suspects are part of a “network” of inmates using dating apps on contraband cell phones to target military personnel, Miller said. They portray themselves as young, attractive women who quickly begin sharing nude or partially nude photos, according to the chief.

After the pictures are sent, the victims are then contacted by a person pretending to be the father or mother of the girl.

“Because servicemen have so much to lose, they often capitulate, even when no wrongdoing has occurred,” Miller said.

Text messages shared by Johns’ family show he told the men, whom he believed were the girl’s parents, that he had no memory of the incident but understood their anger.

“I have two kids of my own a 2 year old and 1 year old,” he wrote, according to messages shared with Greenville News.

Miller said it appears Johns was “in disbelief” about the allegations against him and “had no idea” he was being blackmailed.

The Army veteran died from a self-inflicted gunshot in his home on the 17th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

If convicted, the two suspects will have more time added to their already-long prison sentences. Dobbins is serving 25 years on drug charges and Smith is serving 15 years for assault.

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