No Bail for Man Charged in Porn Blackmail Plot

     KANSAS CITY, Mo. (CN) — A federal judge on Thursday ruled that a former wedding photographer will remain in custody on charges he extorted, enticed and defrauded women by “auditioning” them for porn and then sending the images to their boyfriends and employers if they didn’t pay up.
     Federal authorities charged Mario A. Antoine, 33, of Raymore, Missouri, in a 21-count indictment Oct. 12. The counts against Antoine include wire fraud, cyberstalking, online enticement, lying to federal agents, obstructing justice, and extortion.
     The indictment details crimes against six victims, but prosecutors said in a statement this week that they believe Antoine duped “dozens of women” into believing he’d pay them thousands of dollars from sales of pornographic images to overseas porn companies.
     To add legitimacy to his scheme, Antoine registered fake domain names and provided women with bogus “modeling contracts” and employment forms, prosecutors say.
     Antoine turned himself in on Monday and was arraigned Thursday in proceedings in which an FBI agent testified that more victims have come forward.
     FBI agent Tricia DeWet testified that since Antoine’s arrest, “more than 25 women,” some of them minors, had called a special FBI hotline to report similar crimes.
     One caller reported that he and his wife had hired Antoine to shoot their wedding photos. When the images of their wedding arrived, they found them tacked on at the end a “sexual video” featuring Antoine.
     Prosecutor Patrick Daly called Antoine a flight risk, cited his past conduct of violating supervised release for a separate crime and warned that if he were released, there was no way to ensure that the community and his victims who stepped forward will remain safe.
     “Future performance is based on past performance,” Daly told the judge, calling Antoine’s scheme “essentially serial rape.”
     Public defender James Brown, representing Antoine at Thursday’s hearing only, argued that Antoine had turned himself in immediately after he’d learned of the indictment and warrant for his arrest. He said that if released, Antoine would “faithfully abide” by all conditions and suggested curtailing Antoine’s Internet access.
     U.S. Magistrate Judge John Maughmer informed Antoine of the maximum punishments for the 21 counts on the indictment, after which Antoine pleaded not guilty. Maughmer will appoint a new public defender for Antoine but declined to release the man on bond.
     If convicted, Antoine could receive 20 years in federal prison on each of 14 wire fraud counts, five years each on the two cyberstalking charges and the same punishment on two counts of false statements to law enforcement.
     Antoine also faces two years in prison on the extortion charge and seven years on the count of false registration of a domain name if convicted.
     A trial is set for Nov. 28.

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