US Navy captain accused of using Facebook to humiliate civilian woman in cyberstalking campaign

A US naval officer has been charged with cyberstalking after he allegedly used fake accounts on Facebook and LinkedIn to pose as a woman who had privately shared sexually explicit material with him, making the videos and photos public while falsely portraying her as a professional pole dancer.

Captain Theodore Essenfeld, 51, of Chula Vista, California, is accused of posting erotic content pertaining to his victim, which she had allegedly shared with him previously in confidence, falsely claiming that she worked as a dancer and was interested in dating other men.

“The indictment alleges a disturbing campaign of betrayed trust, harassment, and intimidation,” said US Attorney Randy Grossman, prosecuting the case in a California federal court along with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). “This office is committed to protecting victims of cyberstalking and holding perpetrators accountable for malicious internet activity.”

The complaint alleges that Essenfeld spent a year and half waging an online campaign of harassment against the woman, setting up fake LinkedIn and Facebook accounts in her name to post the pornographic photo and video content in the form of memes and other lurid material, with the apparent aim of defaming or humiliating her.

In addition to this, the prosecution alleges Essenfeld used emails and cellphone accounts that he also set up illicitly using her name and other personally identifying information.

Describing the alleged conduct of the accused as “reprehensible”, the NCIS agent in charge of the case, Joshua Flowers, said his organization was “committed to fully investigating and rooting out criminality” within the Navy’s ranks.

Assisting in the case, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) announced that a single charge of cyberstalking had been brought against Essenfeld on February 6. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison, a fine of as much as $250,000, and expulsion from the service.

The DoJ urges anyone aware of other possible cases of cyberstalking by members of the US military to contact the following anonymous hotlines: NCIS (Navy and Marines), Report a crime (Army), and Submit a Tip (Air Force).