Ex-State Dept worker pleads not guilty in cyberstalking case

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ATLANTA (AP) — A former U.S. State Department employee accused of sending threatening emails to college-aged women from his computer at the U.S. Embassy in London pleaded not guilty Wednesday to federal charges.

A grand jury last month indicted Michael C. Ford on nine counts of cyberstalking, seven counts of computer hacking to extort and one count of wire fraud. He waived formal arraignment and pleaded not guilty at a hearing in federal court in Atlanta.

Ford victimized hundreds of people in the United States by posing as a member of Google's account deletion team, which doesn't actually exist, and sending emails to potential victims saying their accounts would be deleted unless they sent him their passwords, the indictment says.

Ford used those passwords to access email and social media accounts to obtain sexually explicit photos and to search for personal information and additional potential victims, the indictment says.

He then used false names, including David Anderson and John Parsons, to send the women messages threatening to put the images online or send them to the women's families and friends if they didn't do what he wanted, a practice known as sextortion, the indictment says. He repeatedly demanded that victims send him sexually explicit photos and videos of other young women and asked for personal information and passwords of their friends and family, the indictment says.

In multiple instances, he followed through on his threats to send the photos to people the victims knew, the indictment says.

He primarily preyed upon young women and aspiring models, hacking into email accounts of modeling agencies to find potential victims, the indictment says. He also appeared to target members of sororities at U.S. colleges and universities and at least once targeted a young man, the indictment says.

Authorities detained Ford in May at Atlanta's airport as he prepared to board a London-bound flight.

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