Marquette Couple Convicted in Extortion Plot Against Actor John Stamos
|U.S. Attorney’s Office July 15, 2010|
MARQUETTE, MI—Scott Edward Sippola, age 31, and Allison Lenore Coss, age 24, both of Marquette, Michigan, were convicted following a four-day jury trial of three felony offenses relating to a plot to extort $680,000 from the actor John Stamos. The offenses of conviction include conspiracy to use interstate communications to extort money, as well as two substantive counts of using interstate communications to extort money. The Honorable R. Allan Edgar presided over the trial. Both defendants face a maximum term of imprisonment of five years. Sentencing is set for October 8, 2010.
The scheme began in November 2009, when Sippola and Coss began sending a series of e-mails to Mr. Stamos claiming to have compromising photographs of him, and threatening to sell the photographs to tabloid magazines unless he agreed to pay money. They ultimately demanded $680,000 to be paid in cash. Mr. Stamos referred the threats to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In an effort to determine the identity of the source of the extortion threats, FBI special agents took over Mr. Stamos’ e-mail account and eventually communicated by cellular telephone with the defendants pretending to be Mr. Stamos’ business manager.
On December 2, 2009, both defendants were arrested near the K.I. Sawyer International airport, the site in which the arranged drop-off of the money was to be made. A subsequent search of the defendants’ residence revealed a computer used to communicate with Mr. Stamos, as well as other documents related to the extortion plot. The FBI obtained telephone records that demonstrated that Sippola’s cellular telephone was used to negotiate the arrangements for dropping off the $680,000 with the undercover FBI agent. During those telephone calls, Sippola expressed concerns that no law enforcement be involved at the drop-off site and that the money be in “unmarked” bills.
Coss met Mr. Stamos in Orlando, Florida, in April 2004 during a trip to Disney World. Coss attended a party with Mr. Stamos and approximately eight to 10 other people. Mr. Stamos developed a friendship with Coss, and the two communicated by e-mail occasionally from that time until late November 2009, when Mr. Stamos referred the matter to the FBI. Coss claimed to have compromising photographs from the April 2004 party.
Mr. Stamos testified at trial that nothing untoward took place during the April 2004 party, and accordingly, that he never believed compromising photographs actually existed. The defendants refused to send the alleged photographs to Mr. Stamos and to the undercover FBI agents, despite repeated requests that they prove their existence. No compromising photographs were ever found, despite a search of the defendants, their vehicles, their residence, and their computer. At one point, Sippola and Coss claimed to have the compromising photographs in their safe, but a search of that safe revealed only innocuous photographs of Coss with Mr. Stamos.
U.S. Attorney Donald A. Davis noted the importance of protecting all citizens against such extortion attempts. “While the victim in this case was a celebrity, federal law is intended to protect everyone from those who would threaten harm to one’s reputation simply to make a fast buck. It is my hope that these convictions will send a strong message to those considering such conduct.” U.S. Attorney Davis also commended Mr. Stamos’ decision to refer this matter to law enforcement. “Too often victims are afraid to report such crimes for fear of becoming involved in a drawn-out prosecution, and of being re-victimized by the process. We appreciate Mr. Stamos’ cooperation in bringing the defendants to justice.”
Special Agent in Charge Andrew G. Arena of the FBI, which investigated the case, added: “The FBI is committed to protecting all citizens, no matter who they are, from unscrupulous individuals who would attempt to financially exploit them. Many accusations have arisen in this trial. I can assure you that the FBI is not in the practice of destroying or compromising evidence, regardless of who the subject or victim may be.”
Investigating the case along with the FBI were its task forces, which include the Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team (UPSET), the Saginaw Police Department, and the Bay City Police Department. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Maarten Vermaat and Paul Lochner, with the assistance of Assistant U.S. Attorney Katie Sample.