Inmates accused of sextortion scheme that ended in suicide

Two inmates have been charged with blackmailing an Army veteran who killed himself after receiving messages warning he would be reported to police for receiving nude photos of ‘an underage girl.’

John William Dobbins, 59, of North Charleston and Carl Richard Smith, 43, of Simpsonville, who are inmates at Lee Correctional Institution, were charged Friday in connection with a sextortion scam that targeted Army veteran, Jared Johns of Greenville, 24, shortly before he killed himself on September 11, 2018.

The charges were announced by Greenville Police Chief Ken Miller after what he described as a lengthy investigation.   

Johns was sent the explicit pictures through a dating app by people who then claimed the girl he’d received the photos from was only 17 and demanded $1,189 for not reporting him to the police. 

‘We now know that at the time of his death Jared was the victim of a blackmail scheme that was created by inmates in a South Carolina prison, which created sufficient mental anguish to cause Jared to believe that he was going to be accused of serious crime with lifelong implications,’ Miller said.      

Dobbins is serving a 25-year sentence on a third methamphetamine conviction in Laurens County. 

Smith is serving a 15-year sentence after he was convicted in 2015 of assault and battery. 

Miller said the two Lee Correctional Institution inmates used contraband cellphones to target Johns. 

This is not the first time the prison, near Bishopville, has hit the headlines.

It was site of a deadly prison riot where seven inmates were killed and another 22 were injured on April 15 2018. 

Contraband mobile phones were used by inmates to help incite and coordinate the violence, according to prison officials. 

Following the riot cellphone-blocking technology was installed at the institution and its reportedly the only state prison equipped with a managed-access system that is designed to prevent inmates from using contraband cellphones. 

Shortly before the charges against Dobbins and Smith were announced, state prison officials said they had apprehended several inmates at the correctional facility after they were found to be using phones to conduct live broadcasts on Facebook. 

State Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling has acknowledged the system’s failure.  

Stirling told a legislative panel in July that 99 percent of calls were stopped from contraband phones thanks to the managed-access system operated by Maryland-based Tecore Networks, as reported by the Greenville News.

On Friday, Stirling said wireless companies are hampering efforts by failing to notify Tecore when they change the radio frequencies that carry their calls, that in turn leads to inmates making use of contraband cellphones, he added. 

Jared Johns’ parents, Kathy Bowling and Kevin Johns, say their son shot himself minutes after receiving the final blackmail threat at 11:59 a.m., from a person claiming to be the girl’s father on September 11 last year, as reported by Greenville News. 

Bowling said data from her son’s Apple Watch showed that his heart stopped beating at 12:03 p.m.  

Bowling and Johns said their son suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Afghanistan, adding the disorder left him unable to cope with the threats that he received. 

Johns joined the army after graduating from Hillcrest High School in Simpsonville in June 2012. 

He was deployed to Afghanistan in June 2013, serving as a gunner.

After hurting his back while dismounting an armored vehicle, he was sent to Germany for treatment.  

Johns received a general discharge under honorable conditions and came back to Greenville.  

Johns was father to two sons, Liam and Jaxon and shared an apartment with his twin brother, Jared.  

Johns recorded a video, including a message for his sons, on his cellphone before ending his life. 

‘I hate that I’m not going to get to see you grow up, but it’s better this way, I promise,’ The Greenville News reported. 

  

  

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