A State Department employee has been arrested and charged with computer hacking, cyber-stalking and extorting college-aged women in what authorities say was a scheme to gather sexually explicit material.
Michael C. Ford, a State Department employee who has worked out of the U.S. Embassy in London since 2009, is accused of using government computers there to conduct the alleged crimes. He was arrested at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Sunday and is scheduled to appear in a federal court later today.
Authorities said investigators found a spreadsheet on Ford’s work computer that appeared to summarize criminal activity that included a list of approximately 250 e-mail addresses he may have used to target the women.
A criminal complaint filed in Atlanta's federal court contains an affidavit from a diplomatic security agent that details the emails found after searching Ford’s computer records. It alleges that, in early 2015, Ford “apparently hacked into and stole compromising photographs from online accounts belonging to an 18-year-old Kentucky woman.” He then sent her threatening emails demanding she sent him more photographs and video of other “girls” and “sexy girls” who were undressing in changing rooms at pools, gyms and clothing stores, according to the court papers.
He allegedly would threaten to send the compromising photos to acquaintances of his targets or make them public in other ways if the targets did not comply.
The affidavit quotes emails recovered from Ford’s accounts. “Finally, I found you! What do you think? Nice a**!,” his first email to one victim allegedly read. When the woman responded by asking where he got the photos, according to the court documents, he answered: “I’m a wizard, I have lots. Do you like it? :).” He then allegedly asked, “Can I text the picture to [her acquaintance's phone number] or maybe email it to [other individuals].”
When the woman threatened to tell the police, according to the documents, he responded: “I’ve hacked nothing. You threaten me again and I send it out. Would you like that.”
The affidavit adds that when the woman begged him to leave her alone he responded yet again, demanding his terms. “I want you to video girls in the changing room [of her gym]. If you don’t, I send your details and picture to everyone. What do you say? Looks like you’ve made up your mind. Get ready for my email and post to go out tomorrow morning. Enjoy!”
Based on the totality of the information recovered from Ford's computer, the diplomatic security investigator said in the documents that he believes "Ford may be targeting college-aged women throughout the U.S."
The federal charges also state that at one point a man with the same name and Social Security number was arrested in connection with “'peeping-Tom'-like” offenses, without offering additional details.
In a briefing with reporters Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf acknowledged the arrest and said that, as of May 18, Ford was no longer employed by the government. Harf described Ford as a “locally hired administrative support employee” who was not a member of the Foreign Service.
The State Department would not comment further, citing Department policy regarding ongoing litigation.
ABC News reached out to Ford’s lawyers for comment but they were not immediately available.