Using the voice mailboxes set up through a national phone dating service, a local couple was able to extort thousands of dollars from victims throughout the country by convincing them they had left sexually explicit messages on a young boy's cell phone, according to records filed in federal court.
Kevin Zunk, 43, and Tonya Blaze, 40, both of Toledo made an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Toledo Wednesday to each face one count of extortion. The charge, “transmission of interstate communications containing threats to accuse a person of a crime with the intent to extort money from such person,” is punishable by up to two years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The couple is accused of receiving more than $10,000 from multiple victims throughout the country. They remain in custody pending a detention hearing set for Monday before Magistrate Vernelis Armstrong.
According to a 26-page FBI affidavit filed in federal court, Mr. Zunk and Ms. Blaze were involved in a scheme in which they made contact with victims through the MegaMates voice personals dating service.
The service allows adult participants to set up a voice mail box, including information about themselves and about the type of person they are seeking. Others are then able to browse those messages and initiate contact by leaving a voice message.
According to the affidavit, at least seven victims encountered the couple through the service. In each of the incidents, the victims were given a phone number registered to Mr. Zunk to make additional contact.
The affidavit alleges that each of the seven victims was contacted by Mr. Zunk, who told the victims that they had sent either an explicit message or photo to a cell phone belonging to his 11-year-old son.
According to statements to the FBI, the victims were told that charges would not be pressed against them if they sent money to replace the phone as well as to reimburse other out-of-pocket expenses.
In some cases, the victims were contacted by someone posing as a Toledo police detective or Lucas County Sheriff's deputy.
The men each wired sums of money that were later determined to be picked up by either Mr. Zunk or Ms. Blaze, the affidavit said.
“Information obtained from MegaMates shows that boxes have been created and/or accessed since 2007 from phone numbers associated with Zunk …” the affidavit said. “…As of 8/1/10, through money transfer records from Western Union and MoneyGram, victim interviews, phone logs, and information obtained from MegaMates, a total of $10,222.54 has been confirmed as money lost by victims due to the extortion activity…”
The affidavit further stated that an additional $7,000 was received by the couple through wire transfers, but that there is not yet confirmation that it came from victims of the scheme.
Federal authorities said that although the couple is charged with one count each of extortion, additional counts are likely when the case is taken to grand jury.
Attorney Spiros Cocoves, who was appointed to represent Mr. Zunk, declined to comment on the case.
Contact Erica Blake at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-213-2134.