Kevin Zunk told a federal judge Friday the idea to extort thousands of dollars from victims nationwide evolved after he received an explicit photo on his cell phone that apparently came to him by mistake.
After receiving that photo, Zunk said, he and his co-defendant developed a plan to join a national phone-dating service so they could extort thousands of dollars from victims by convincing them they had left sexually explicit messages on a young boy's cell phone.
Zunk, 43, of Northwood pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Toledo Friday to two counts of extortion totaling $55,102 from more than 45 victims nationwide.
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. Zunk will be sentenced Feb. 7.
"Someone sent a photo to my phone, that's how we came up with the whole idea," he told Judge Jack Zouhary, adding that when he contacted the sender, he was told that his number had been given out. "That's how we came up with the scam of telling people that they sent [explicit messages and photos] to a kid's phone."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth Uram said Zunk and co-defendant Tonya Blaze were involved in a scheme in which they made contact with victims through the MegaMates voice personals dating service.
Court records indicate the service allows adult participants to set up a voice-mail box to leave information about themselves and the type of person they are seeking. Others can browse those messages and initiate contact by leaving a voice message.
Mr. Uram said Zunk encountered his victims through the ser-vice, although he never met them personally. Zunk solicited them to send photos of themselves to him, Mr. Uram added.
Then Zunk contacted the victims and told them they had sent either an explicit message or photo to a cell phone that belonged to his 11-year-old son.
Mr. Uram said the victims were told that charges would not be pressed against them if they sent money to replace the phone and 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. In one instance, the caller identified himself as Detective Mike Bell, Mr. Uram said, noting the use of the Toledo mayor's name.
The men each wired sums of money that were later determined to be picked up by either Zunk or his co-defendant, Mr. Uram said. One victim alone wired 24 payments totaling $18,129, he added.
"He was threatened that they would inform his employer that they had sexually explicit photos of him that he had sent to a child," Mr. Uram said, adding that the victim was threatened that charges would be pressed in Toledo.
Zunk's attorney, Spiros Cocoves, told Judge Zouhary that no children were involved in the scheme.
Mr. Uram said that as part of the plea agreement, Zunk would not face additional charges, including impersonation charges. He added that one extortion charge is pending against Ms. Blaze.
- Erica Blake