Inmates charged with blackmail in sextortion of Army veteran before suicide
GREENVILLE, S.C. – Two South Carolina prison inmates have been charged with blackmail in connection with a sextortion scam that targeted an Army veteran shortly before he killed himself last year.
Jared Johns killed himself Sept. 11, 2018.
The charges against John William Dobbins, 59, of North Charleston, S.C., and Carl Richard Smith, 43, of Simpsonville, S.C., were announced Friday by Greenville Police Chief Ken Miller.
Dobbins is serving a 25-year sentence on a third methamphetamine conviction in Laurens County, S.C.. Smith was convicted of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature in Greenville County and he is serving a 15-year sentence.
"We now know that at the time of his death, Jared was the victim of a blackmail scheme that was created by inmates in a South Carolina prison, which created sufficient mental anguish to cause Jared to believe that he was going to be accused of serious crime with lifelong implications," said Miller.
Miller said investigators determined that Dobbins and Smith carried out the scam by using contraband cellphones from inside Lee Correctional Institution. The maximum-security facility near Bishopville, S.C., is the only state prison equipped with a managed-access system that is designed to prevent inmates from using contraband cellphones.
In February, Johns' parents, Kathy Bowling and Kevin Johns, said they learned in the weeks after his suicide that he was the victim of an extortion attempt based around allegations of an exchange of sexually explicit photographs. Johns' parents said people posing as the parents of a 17-year-old girl who had purportedly sent their son illicit photos said they would report Johns to police unless he paid them $1,189.
Bowling provided The Greenville News with copies of texts from her son’s cellphone showing that the people posing as the girl’s parents contacted him on the evening of Sept. 10. The person claiming to be the girl’s father sent Jared Johns a final threatening text message at 11:59 a.m. on Sept. 11.
Within minutes of that exchange, Johns died, said Greenville County Deputy Coroner Kent Dill.
Bowling said data from her son’s Apple Watch showed that his heart stopped beating at 12:03 p.m.
Bowling and Kevin Johns, who are divorced, said their son suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Afghanistan, and they said the condition left him unable to cope with the threats that he received.
"My son should still be alive," Bowling said in February.
Under South Carolina law, blackmail is a felony that carries a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
The blackmail scam that the inmates are accused of carrying out is similar to the tactics allegedly used by five other South Carolina inmates and 10 accomplices who were indicted by a federal grand jury last fall. That scheme victimized 442 military serviceman from around the nation and netted more than $500,000 between 2015 and early 2018, according to federal authorities.
Authorities said those inmates used contraband cellphones to visit online dating sites posing as women. They sent servicemen nude photos and asked for naked pictures of the men. Then people posing as irate fathers contacted the servicemen and told them the women that they had sent photos to were juveniles. The alleged schemers threatened to contact law enforcement officials unless they were paid off.
One of the inmates who was indicted, Jimmy Dunbar, pleaded guilty in March and is awaiting sentencing. Charges are pending against the other four inmates.
2001 terrorist attacks convinced Jared Johns to join the Army
Jared Johns was only 7 years old when planes hijacked by terrorists crashed into the World Trade Center's twin towers in Manhattan, the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001. His parents said the events of that fateful day convinced him that he would grow up to become a soldier.
Johns left for basic training two months after graduating from Hillcrest High School in Simpsonville in June 2012. After being sent to a base in Germany, he deployed to Afghanistan in June 2013.
Stationed in the country's Kandahar region, Johns served as a gunner atop an armored vehicle, according to his parents. He injured his back while dismounting from his armored vehicle about six months into his deployment and returned to Germany for treatment.
A woman whom Johns was in a relationship with in Germany gave birth to his first son, Liam, in May 2016.
Johns received a general discharge under honorable conditions and came back to Greenville, which is where his other son, Jaxson, was born in April 2017.
Lying on his bed in the apartment that he shared with his twin brother, Jared recorded a video on his cellphone before killing himself.
The video included a message for his sons:
"I hate that I'm not going to get to see you grow up, but it's better this way, I promise."
Follow Kirk Brown on Twitter @KirkBrown_AIM
This article originally appeared on The Greenville News: Inmates charged with blackmail in sextortion of Army veteran before suicide