No Bail for Porn Actor on Extortion Charge

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal judge denied bail to a gay porn actor charged with threatening to release sexually explicit images of a wealthy businessman in a $1.5 million extortion attempt.
     Teofil Brank, who performs as Jarec Wentworth, was charged in March with extortion and making criminal threats after the FBI arrested him in a sting operation at a Starbucks parking lot on Sepulveda Boulevard.
     According to an FBI agent’s March 6 affidavit, Brank extorted his wealthy victim, D.B., and threatened to ruin the man’s reputation by posting sexually explicit photos of him on Twitter.
     A brief to the court filed by Brank’s attorney Ashfaq Chowdhury states that the “government’s own evidence” suggests D.B. often sought out “specific gay porn stars that he wanted to pay for sex.”
     The government alleges that Brank made demands on the victim via text message from his smart phone after making comments aimed at D.B. on Twitter.
     In response, D.B. allegedly agreed to wire $500,000 to Brank and also gave up his Audi R8 sports car.
     D.B. went to the FBI after Brank continued to make demands. During a meeting at FBI offices, Brank upped the ante, asking via text message for $1 million in cash and a bachelor pad in L.A., the affidavit states.
     On March 4, the FBI sent an undercover agent posing as a courier for D.B. to meet with Brank at 8:30 p.m. inside the Starbucks, prosecutors say.
     After handing over title to the Audi, the agent led Brank to a car in the parking lot, telling him he had the money in the trunk of his car. Agents arrested Brank and placed him cuffs shortly thereafter, according to court documents.
     Brank’s associate Etienne Yim was waiting in the parking lot in a Ford hatchback after Brank’s arrest, prosecutors say. He allegedly told agents that Brank had asked him to bring a gun to the meeting for protection.
     Agents found a Colt Magnum revolver, six rounds of ammunition and the Samsung smartphone Brank had used to make the alleged extortion demands, the affidavit states.
     At the Monday hearing, Chowdhury told U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Wilner that his client was not a serious flight risk because the government had frozen Brank’s bank accounts, that Brank does not own any firearms, and that the gun found in the Ford belonged to Yim.
     “It’s a social media case, with no threats of violence,” Chowdhury told the judge.
     Yim had told the FBI that Brank had a Euro currency card that could allow him to travel to Europe, according to the affidavit.
     But Chowdhury said Brank did not have a passport, and though he’s not a U.S. citizen, had been in the United States since he was a toddler. It was unlikely he would exile himself from the country where he had grown up, Chowdhury said.
     Brank offered sureties from a man named Michael Hattig, who offered a $250,000 equity in his residence and 45 acres of property in San Bernardino owned by his father, Gheorge Brank, worth about $10,000.
     At the hearing and in court documents, federal prosecutor Eddie Jauregui said that as recently as six weeks ago it appeared that Brank did not know Hattig, and that emails through the prison email system suggested that Hattig was a “fan” of Brank’s work.
     “He could be a fan. He could be a friend,” Judge Wilner said of Hattig, who was present in the courtroom. Either way, the judge said, he did not have enough information about the proposed sureties to release Brank on bail.
     Wilner said the nature of the crime and the “existence” of a gun after Brank was arrested was troubling enough for him to deny Brank’s motion. He ordered him to remain detained.
     Brank has pleaded not guilty to six counts, including transmitting threatening communications with intent to extort, extortion and possession of a firearm.

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