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Published: Friday, 2/11/2011

Northwood man sentenced to 41 months in prison for extortion

A federal judge gave the maximum sentence Friday to a Northwood man who used an online dating Web site to swindle money from men by making them believe they had sent sexually explicit messages and photos to children.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Kevin Zunk was facing a minimum of 33 months in prison for his conviction in U.S. District Court on two counts of extortion.

Instead, Judge Jack Zouhary, citing Zunk's lengthy criminal history and likelihood that he would commit more crimes, imposed 41 months, the maximum sentence permitted for the crimes. He also will be on probation for one year after his release from prison.

Zunk, 43, and co-defendant Tonya Blaze were arrested in August for the scheme that preyed on gay men who had set up accounts with MegaMates, a voice personals phone dating service. Victims from 10 states were duped into believing they had sent nude photos of themselves and explicit text messages to cell phones belonging to preteen boys and girls.

According to court records, the couple demanded money to replace cell phones, pay lawyers, and cover other expense, threatening to report the incidents to authorities and their employers if they did not wire money.

Blaze, 40, of Toledo, who pleaded guilty to one count of extortion, was sentenced earlier Friday by Judge Zouhary to five years probation. She and Zunk also must pay restitution to the victims.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Wilson said the investigation has turned up 56 victims who sent at least $156,000 to the couple from October, 2009, through last July.

In an interview, Mr. Wilson said additional victims who learned about the case from the media came forward after Zunk pleaded guilty Oct. 8. He said more people may have been duped into sending money and are unaware of the investigation.

The court records said Zunk started the scam by setting up a MegaMates account in which he described himself as a 19-year-old man interested in a relationship with an older male.

He then swapped nude photos with other male users through cell phones, the documents said.

In some instances, Zunk, calling from his own phone or the phone of his mother and sister, claimed he was a Lucas County sheriff's or Toledo police detective and told the victims they were being investigated for sending explicit photos and texts to youngsters. He told them charges were going to be filed.

Judge Zouhary said the defendant's criminal history included nearly two dozen convictions that began at age 18 and steadily continued as he got older. "I am floored at the length of your criminal history," the judge said.

Zunk, a high school dropout, told Judge Zouhary he was sorry for the harm he caused the victims and said he was driven to extort money to pay for his addiction to crack cocaine.



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