LOS ANGELES (CN) - A Temecula art gallery owner pleaded guilty to cyberstalking fine art dealers in a $300,000 extortion scheme that involved threats to the dealers' children.
Jason White, 43, pleaded guilty Monday before U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson. White faces up to 10 years in federal prison at his June 9 sentencing.
Federal prosecutors charged White with trying to extort hundreds of thousands dollars from a well-known artist and gallery by creating websites under their names.
"White posted derogatory information about his former associates on websites he had created, and then used threatening emails to demand hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for taking the websites down. White repeatedly made extortionate demands through harassing text messages and emails, and when his demands were not met, he threatened violence against the victim families," the U.S. Attorney's Office said in statement.
White used the websites to post claims that his victims sold forgeries, and made other disparaging remarks, according to the U.S. attorney.
"Because the domain names contained the names of victims, White warned that any internet search for the victims' names would turn up White's websites and spread his derogatory statements," the FBI agent wrote in the 28-page affidavit before White was arrested in February
White sent allegations of fraud to the art dealer's most prominent clients, and threatened to contact the press and ruin the dealer's reputation.
FBI Agent Elizabeth Rivas said in the affidavit that White had targeted a fine art publisher, identified as R.B., apparently referring to Beverly Hills art dealer Robert Bane and his gallery Robert Bane Fine Arts.
The dealer hired White in April 2013 as a salesman but White left just a few months later. The affidavit says it became apparent that White did not have the fine art connections he touted to get the job.
White then demanded by email a "consulting fee" of $150,000, rising to $300,000 if the dealer did not pay him within three days, the affidavit stated. In return, he said he would take down the two websites he had created in the dealer's name.
According to the affidavit, White made multiple demands and threats to the dealer and his former supervisor between August 2013 and January 2014.
White allegedly posted a threatening message on the Facebook page of "artist F.P." on Jan. 23, apparently referring to Fabian Perez, who exhibits work at Robert Bane Fine Arts.
In another alleged extortion scheme, White is accused of targeting an artist identified as J.F.G. and his son, T.G.
According to the affidavit, when the son visited White's gallery in Temecula he found him sleeping at the back of gallery in a sleeping bag. White said he was living in the gallery.
"(O)n one occasion, White refused to open the door for victim T.G., brandished a knife in his hand, and told victim T.G. to leave," the affidavit stated.
White allegedly sent harassing messages to T.G., including a photograph of his child, along with the message: "Once this gallery closes all I have to do in my life is take care of [victim T.G.'s minor child] ... And what if I'm willing to do the time!!!" (Brackets in affidavit).
White has a previous conviction for possession of a controlled substance and misdemeanor fraud.
He was investigated by the FBI Art Crime Team.
Temecula, pop. 110,000, is in inland Riverside County, just north of the San Diego County line.