The messages were relentless. A California woman couldn’t escape the barrage of malicious texts, phone calls, and social media posts originating from a mysterious individual with whom she had no previous connection.
The harassment didn’t stop until the FBI intervened and uncovered a trail of threats and extortion that led to a Miami college student—who is now behind bars for cyberstalking.
“An unwanted relationship was being pushed on a victim who ultimately felt terrorized by an obsessed individual she didn’t even know,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jodi Anton, who supported the FBI during the investigation. “The constant intimidation was destroying her life, to the point where she could barely function at work and considered suicide.”
The perpetrator, Kassandra Cruz was completing her criminal justice degree at Florida International University and spent countless hours behind the computer between her studies. In June 2015, she became fixated on a woman she found on a pornography website and tracked down the actress through her social media accounts.
“The victim was an 18-year-old high school student at the time looking for ways to get ahead in life. She made a bad decision trying out pornography,” said Special Agent George Nau, who investigated the case out of the FBI’s Miami Field Office. “It was something she kept hidden from her family and employers. She didn’t realize her past would come back to haunt her 15 years later.”
Cruz gained access to two of the victim’s social media feeds by creating a fake persona of an attractive male U.S. Marine named Giovanni and sending friend requests. The former adult film actress accepted, and Giovanni began liking and commenting on almost every picture she shared. But the victim’s suspicions began to mount in September 2015, when Giovanni started to follow and like the her friends’ posts as well.
By the end of the summer, Cruz’s fake profiles were blocked, which angered her. She resorted to harassment and often violent threats, which were aimed not only at the victim but also her friends and family. Included in Cruz’s messages were a plot to expose the victim’s hidden past making adult films as well as demands to be paid $100,000 in return for leaving the victim alone.
Cruz’s flurry of e-mails, letters, and social media messages were taking their toll on the victim’s personal life and professional career. From the beginning of 2016 until late April, the victim received more than 900 phone calls and text messages on her cell phone alone. Approximately the same amount of unwanted calls were made to the victim’s home and work phones before the FBI ended the stalking.
“Cruz had many fake social media accounts, so it was difficult at first to track all of the threats to the source,” said Nau. “She would create a new profile as soon as she was blocked. But ultimately, the e-mails, phone calls, and letters led us to her.”
A turning point in the investigation took place in May 2016, when the FBI lured Cruz into a video chat with the victim to discuss paying the $100,000 extortion demand. While the conversation further solidified that Cruz was behind the threats, it was the in-person meeting arranged during the chat that allowed agents to finally make an arrest.
In August 2016, Cruz was sentenced to 22 months in prison after having been found guilty of cyberstalking.
“Even while Cruz was being driven to jail, she still wanted to talk to the victim,” said Nau. “She was blinded by her obsession and oblivious to the impact of her crime.”