SC inmate sentenced to federal prison in military sextortion scheme

Published: Apr. 21, 2023 at 11:03 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 21, 2023 at 6:23 PM EDT

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A man serving a 22-year sentence in the state Department of Corrections has been sentenced to federal prison after a guilty plea in connection with a scheme to extort and defraud military members.

Dexter Lawrence, 37, was sentenced to 70 months in federal prison in connection with the military sextortion scheme that the U.S. Department of Justce says was operated inside the state prison system. The Department of Justice said Lawrence was sentenced after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering for his role in the scheme.

Evidence presented to the court showed that while serving a sentence for armed robbery and carjacking, Lawrence smuggled smartphones into the state prison and used the internet to join dating websites.

“Once on the internet dating websites, Lawrence would target young men who were in the military while posing as a young woman,” U.S. First Assistant U.S. Attorney Brook Andrews said. “Lawrence would solicit nude photographs and once the photographs were received, Lawrence, and others, then posed as the father of the young woman, claiming that the young woman was underage and that the military member was in possession of child pornography. Lawrence and others then threatened to have the military members arrested or dishonorably discharged unless they paid money.”

Investigators say at least 25 victims transferred a total of $60,004.49 to Lawrence through his co-conspirators between March 2016 to May 2017 during the plot.

United States District Judge Bruce H. Hendricks sentenced Lawrence to nearly six years in federal prison, to be followed by a three-year term of court-ordered supervision. This sentence will be served after Lawrence completes his 22-year state prison sentence, Andrews said.

There is no parole in the federal system.

“Contraband cell phones enable inmates to continue their criminal activity behind bars,” U.S. Attorney Adair F. Boroughs said. “In this case, the defendant used them to prey on victims who have bravely served our nation. Our office is committing to working with SCDC and our law enforcement partners to address the threats posed by smartphones in our prisons.”

NCIS Carolinas Field Office Special Agent in Charge Erin Carmichael said Lawrence was the leader in “a criminal network that specifically preyed on military service members through schemes that degrade military readiness and ultimately threaten our national security.”

In light of the investigation, South Carolina Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling renewed his call on Congress to support a hearing on the Cellphone Jamming Reform Act. That act would allow states to use technology to jam cellphone signals within state prisons.

“Cellphones are the most dangerous weapons in prisons today because they allow inmates to prey on innocent victims and continue committing crimes,” Stirling said.