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SC inmate sentenced to federal prison in military ‘sextortion’ scheme

Wendell Wilkins, 32, pleaded guilty to money laundering for his role in a scheme to extort and...
Wendell Wilkins, 32, pleaded guilty to money laundering for his role in a scheme to extort and defraud military members that was operated within the South Carolina Department of Corrections, prosecutors said.(South Carolina Department of Corrections)
Updated: May. 27, 2021 at 6:25 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - A Spartanburg County man serving a 12-year sentence for attempted armed robbery will spend more than five years in federal prison after a guilty plea.

Wendell Wilkins, 32, pleaded guilty to money laundering for his role in a scheme to extort and defraud military members that was operated within the South Carolina Department of Corrections, Acting U.S. Attorney Rhett DeHart said.

Several victims of the scheme later committed suicide, DeHart said.

Prosecutors alleged Wilkins used smartphones smuggled into prison to join dating sites, posed as young women and began communicating with military members. Wilkins sent nude photographs of young females to the military members and solicited nude photographs and other personal information in exchange, investigators say.

Then, Wilkins, along with others acting at his direction, posed as the father of the young woman, claiming she was underage and that the military member was in possession of child pornography, and threatened to have the military members arrested or dishonorably discharged unless they paid money, prosecutors say.

DeHart said that at least 25 military victims transferred at least $74,000 in extorted funds between February 2016 and January 2018.

“Wilkins was one of numerous inmates at SCDC prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Carolina for participating in this scheme to extort military members,” DeHart said. “In total, more than 300 military members throughout the United States were victims of the scheme, and the amount of loss exceeded $350,000. Several military members committed suicide after falling victim to this extortion scheme.”

United States District Judge David C. Norton sentenced Wilkins to 66 months in federal prison and 36 months of supervised release to be served after Wilkins completes his 12-year state prison sentence. There is no parole in the federal system.

“Nothing good comes from smartphones in prison,” said Acting U.S. Attorney DeHart. “Inmates use them to commit even more crimes while behind bars. We hope this prosecution helps state officials eliminate and disable contraband phones in prison.”

“This is another example of how dangerous it is for inmates to have illegal cell phones,” South Carolina Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling said. “States need the ability to jam cell phone signals inside prisons so we can keep inmates from continuing their illegal activities.”

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