Officials in South Carolina have arrested three individuals for their involvement in a sextortion scheme operating from inside a state prison.
The arrests were announced by the South Carolina Department of Corrections, revealing that the scheme, which earned $146,000 from five victims in 2022, was arranged by an inmate at the Lieber Correction Institution in Ridgeville. The alleged mastermind’s name is not mentioned in the warrants.
The three individuals facing charges are Tori Michelle Boiter (53, Greenville), Ashely Paige Scates (48, Laurens), and Seth Daniel Shurburtt (36, Pelzer). They are charged with bank fraud, criminal conspiracy, money laundering, and violations of the Computer Crimes Act. Scates and Shurburtt were arrested on December 11, while Boiter was arrested the following day, and all three have been granted bond.
Surprisingly, the three haven’t been charged with South Carolina’s new crime of sexual extortion, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. This law was enacted after the son of a York County lawmaker died by suicide following a sextortion scheme. It makes it a felony to blackmail someone after convincing them to send explicit photos via text or social media.
Charges against the inmate at the heart of the scheme have not been served, according to the South Carolina Department of Corrections. The department alleges that the unnamed inmate used a contraband cellphone smuggled into the prison to create online dating profiles, communicate with victims, and exchange explicit images.
Once compromising material was shared, the inmate posed as a parent, lawyer, or private investigator, claiming the victim had communicated with a minor. The victims were then threatened with legal consequences and criminal charges unless they made substantial payments.
Warrants reveal that Boiter, Scates, and Shurburtt received over a dozen payments in 2022, ranging from a few thousand dollars to over $20,000. Victims often transferred money using online banking apps like Zelle and deposited it into bank accounts.
One warrant details how Scates allegedly deposited $118,467 extorted from victims into her account at the CPM Federal Credit Union between April 1 and July 31, 2022.
The group also used fake documents in their scheme, such as a fake “non-disclosure agreement” signed by Boiter and given to an extortion victim under the name Bethey Hawley.
This incident mirrors a previous sextortion scam by South Carolina inmates targeting military members. Around 440 military members in the mid-2010s fell victim to a scheme where inmates, using contraband cellphones, set up dating profiles, pretended to be minors, and demanded payment. In 2018, 15 individuals, including five inmates, were charged in connection with the scheme, resulting in $560,000 being paid to the blackmailers.
The South Carolina Department of Corrections, led by Director Bryan Stirling, has been actively combating contraband cell phones since the 2018 case.
In July, they began testing a program to disable targeted cellphones in state prisons, allowing officials to identify and disable specific unauthorized devices with the help of telecom carriers. This technology aims to prevent inmates from circumventing the system by changing carriers.
The department has also conducted statewide contraband sweeps and installed netting to prevent phones from being thrown over prison walls or delivered by drones. Stirling emphasized that eliminating illegal cellphone use by inmates is crucial for public safety.