Target 12

Seekonk man's sextortion conviction upheld by appeals court

Seekonk, Mass. (WPRI) - The U.S. Court of Appeals has upheld a conviction in a federal sextortion case of a Seekonk man.

Ackell, 50, was found guilty of a federal stalking charge in December 2016 and sentenced to 33 months in prison, but the punishment was put on hold while Ackell appealed his case.

Investigators said Ackell threatened to send explicit photos of a teenage girl to her family and friends if she didn't do what he wanted. The victim – who was 16 when she first made contact with Ackell – was from New Hampshire.

In a news release, the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Hampshire said Ackell promised the victim he would not save any images she sent to him. Then when the victim turned 18 she informed Ackell - who was a commercial airline pilot - that she wanted to end the relationship.

"Ackell prevented this from happening by, among other things, threatening to send the victim’s photographs to her family and friends," The U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement. "He also told the victim that if she ended their relationship, a 14-year-old girl would be raped."

According to court files obtained by Target 12, "the conversations became more sexually graphic" and the girl told him she was "uncomfortable and did not want to continue to send photos of herself or speak in a sexual manner."

Prosecutors say "Ackell replied that she was his ‘slave.'"

At one point the girl told investigators she became depressed and suicidal.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney of New Hampshire Scott Murray said he was grateful the appellate court upheld Ackell's conviction.

“He will serve a well-deserved federal prison sentence," Murray said. "I hope that this result provides some comfort to the victim who was stalked by this defendant.”

Harold Shaw, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Boston office, said "Mr. Ackell used the internet to exploit, threaten, and extort his victim, without remorse or accountability for his actions.” 

“We'd like to thank her for her bravery and courage in coming forward to report his criminal behavior, in the hopes that other children wouldn't be exploited in the same way," Shaw said in a statement. "The protection of our children from depraved predators, who make online threats or exploit our most vulnerable, will continue to be a top priority for the FBI."

Ackell's attorney William Christie said they are planning to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We are disappointed by the First Circuit’s decision," Christie said in an email. "We believe the statute regulates speech in violation of the First Amendment."

Ackell had argued the conviction should be tossed because the federal stalking statute violates the First Amendment, and that the government didn't present enough evidence to secure a conviction. But the appeals court rejected the arguments.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons will now assign Ackell to a facility. It's unclear when he will have to report to prison.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Helen Fitzgibbon and Robert Kinsella prosecuted the case. Investigators from the Seekonk Police Department, FBI and the Hancock, New Hampshire, police worked the probe.

In 2016, Target 12 requested any incident reports from the Seekonk Police Department that involved Ackell. In a response to the request, Seekonk police confirmed they have had two cases naming Ackell in the last six years.

According to the 2010 police report, Ackell was questioned after a man from Canada said he discovered his teenage daughter had an online relationship with Ackell and was missing - he said he feared she had run away and was headed to see Ackell.

"It was unclear if the two have engaged in an inappropriate relationship," the report states.

Ackell told police during one of his "daily runs" as a pilot to Toronto, he met with the girl "at a hotel in Toronto, Canada at a speech convention."

According to the report, the father called Seekonk Police back roughly eight hours later to say his daughter had returned home.

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook


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