Darnell Kahn could be many things from inside of his prison cell. He could be a young woman looking for love online, an angry father, or a menacing private investigator. All he needed was a smartphone, say federal prosecutors.
Kahn, 39, was sentenced to seven years in federal prison on Tuesday for his role in a “sextortion” scheme that targeted dozens of members of the military and netted over $60,000. From January 2017 to July 2017, Kahn extorted over 40 young servicemen he met online by initially claiming to be an adult woman, then pretending to reveal that he was an underage girl, prosecutors said.
”This is inexcusable,” said U.S. Attorney Adair F. Boroughs. “Mr. Khan knowingly used deceit to prey on those who serve our nation.”
While incarcerated in 2017, Kahn “catfished” his victims using a smartphone that had been smuggled into to the prison. Prosecutors say Kahn set up an online dating profile while posing as a woman. He then sought out young men in the military and sent them nude pictures of a woman that he found online.
Kahn would then ask his victims to send him their own nude images and personal information. Soon afterwards, the victims would get a call from Kahn pretending to be either the girl’s father or a private investigator, informing them that the “woman” they were talking with was actually a minor, according to the indictment.
Kahn would threaten to notify law enforcement to have the victims arrested or dishonorably discharged unless they wired money to him, prosecutors said.
At the time, Kahn was serving a 25-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter and attempted armed robbery.
“This is another in a long line of cases that would be stopped if we had the ability to jam cellphone signals in state prisons,” said Bryan Stirling, director of the state Department of Corrections. “I am calling on Congress to support a hearing on the Cellphone Jamming Reform Act and allow states to use technology to stop inmates from using these illegal phones to prey on innocent victims.”
One of Kahn’s co-conspirators, Lakeisha Norris, was charged with acting as a go-between. Norris retrieved the money that had been wired by victims and sent it on to Kahn, according to the indictment. In sentencing documents, Norris’ lawyer, Naki Richardson-Bax, wrote that in 2017 Norris had developed a romantic relationship with Kahn over Facebook, while he was in prison.
Norris didn’t know where the money was coming from and fully cooperated with investigators, according to Richardson-Bax. Norris pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering. She was sentenced to three years of supervised released and must pay $8,650 in restitution.
Sex blackmail schemes targeting the military have flourished in South Carolina prisons. In 2018, 15 people were indicted by federal prosecutors for a similar scheme that targeted around 440 members of the military.
One victim, Jared Johns, committed suicide when scammers from inside the Lee Correctional Institution claimed to be the furious parents of a fictitious 17-year-old girl that Johns is believed to have met through PlentyofFish.com,according to The Greenville News. The scammers demanded thousands of dollars from Johns, who was suffering from PTSD after serving in Afghanistan.
United States District Judge Richard M. Gergel also sentenced Kahn, who was represented by G. Wells Dickson Jr., to three years of supervised release.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Katherine Orville and Amy Bower prosecuted the case, which was investigated by the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, Navy Criminal Investigation, and the South Carolina Department of Corrections.
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