Extortion: One message can be catalyst

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CORLEY

A single message escalated to a “serious case of extortion” involving photographs, money, material goods and more that landed a 21-year-old suspect behind bars July 27.

This follows an investigation by the NPSO high-tech crime unit. The division is supervised by Det. Carey Etheredge with Det. Amber Shirley taking lead on this case. The victim spoke with detectives who intervened quickly and had the suspect in custody within 24 hours.

In April they received a report from a concerned citizen of a possible extortion (blackmail) case involving cell phone photographs. “We follow through on all reports although many turn out to be scams,” Etheredge said. But when Shirley followed up on the case, some of the responses from the suspect threw up red flags that this case had substance. After visiting with the victim in July, Shirley said they determined this was a “serious case of extortion” and her cell phone was taken as evidence.

The investigation revealed the victim and suspect had a prior history years ago that did not end well.

Early on, the victim was requested to, and later sent, a photo of herself in her underwear to the suspect, identified as Robert Corley III, 21, of Robeline. The detectives stated this gave Corley the leverage needed that eventually progressed to nude photos and more than $3,000 in cash.

The victim, also an adult, complied to the demands to prevent the photos from being circulated.

She even reached out to an acquaintance for assistance in supplying Corley with a gun. The acquaintance ultimately realized she was in distress and reported the incident after the arrest to aid in the investigation.

Once detectives determined the case was solid, they devised a basic sting operation where the suspect sent messages to whom he thought was the victim, but after she signed a waiver allowing her phone to be used, was actually Det. Shirley. Numerous texts and messages were saved as evidence.

Ultimately, Corley instructed the victim to meet him at an underpass on I-49. Shirley went in the victim’s car, accompanied by a task force officer with a body camera. Agents also remained nearby and an undercover unit was strategically placed to intercept Corley, but failed to do so due to his excessive speed. Etheredge and other deputies apprehended him on Hwy 120 at the pre-determined location without incident.

Shirley advised this case escalated due to past history between the individuals involved. She said the best thing a person can do to prevent becoming a victim is to first have respect for yourself. “Once it is out there, it is permanent.”

She advises, “If photos are sent, do not show any indicators such as your face or tattoos.”

In this case, the victim was coerced over a four-month period.

Etheredge said the law concerning electronically sent photos changed. “Now, if you send a photo, the law states that photo was intended only for the recipient.”

Shirley said in this case, evidence has not yet shown that Corley shared any of the photos. “The gun was also recovered,” she said.

Corley faces four counts of extortion, one for each violated category of extortion; photographs, cash, items and an additional count. His phone was confiscated as evidence and a judge set bail July 31 at $150,000. He is also monitored by an ankle monitor and restraining orders were issued for both Corley and his wife.

Extortion convictions carry up to 15 years per count. Corley has a court date in September.

The investigation is continuing. Anyone with information on this case, or who believes they are also a victim, should contact Shirley at 318-471-7036.