September 29, 2014

Cyberstalking Case Involving Violent Threats Against Art Dealers and Their Children Leads to Five-Year Federal Prison Term

LOS ANGELES—The owner of a Temecula art gallery who stalked, harassed and attempted to extort as much as $300,000 from art world professionals was sentenced today to 60 months in federal prison.

Jason White, 43, of Temecula, who pleaded guilty in March to two counts of federal stalking, was sentenced today by United States District Judge Stephen V. Wilson.

During today’s hearing, Judge Wilson called White’s crimes ”horrendous” and “very disturbing.”

White was arrested by the FBI on February 12 after engaging in a six-month stalking and extortion scheme that targeted art world professionals with whom he had had business relationships. When those business relationships ended, White posted derogatory information about his former associates on websites he had created, and then used threatening e-mails to demand hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for taking the websites down. White repeatedly made extortionate demands through harassing text messages and e-mails, and when his demands were not met, he threatened violence against the victim families, including their children.

“Given the ominous, angry and relentless nature of the messages, the victims had a reasonable fear that defendant planned to hunt down and kill their spouses and children,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo filed with the court. “Indeed, this case is a parent’s worst nightmare that will likely haunt the victims for the rest of their lives because they will always be fearful that defendant may find their children and make good on his threats.”

In one part of the scheme, White targeted his former employer, an art publisher, as well as White’s supervisor at the art publisher’s company. After creating derogatory websites in the art publisher’s name, White allegedly sent threatening text messages to the art publisher, the publisher’s son, and his former supervisor. In a text message to his former supervisor, he threatened to find her family and make her pay with “fear, anguish and pain.” On several occasions, White obtained pictures of her child and sent pictures of the child to the victim with comments such as “it will be very unfortunate if something was to happen to him.”

White’s “conduct also demonstrates a disturbing and escalating pattern of stalking conduct, particularly since he committed these crimes less than one year after a restraining order was filed against him by another former employer for identical cyber stalking and extortion conduct,” according to the government’s sentencing position papers. “As defendant intended, his stalking crimes traumatized his victims.”

During today’s sentencing hearing, two of the victims spoke, telling Judge Wilson how they felt terrorized by the barrage of threatening e-mails and texts that White sent them.

The case against White was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Art Crime Team.