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Feds charge UGA student with cyberstalking, extortion

Gary E. Leach's Georgia driver's license photograph, August 2020

By Joe Johnson

A University of Georgia graduate student was arrested Friday by federal authorities on charges he cyberstalked and extorted a Massachusetts woman for “sexually explicit and degrading” images and videos over Instagram for more than a year and a half, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Gary E. Leach, 23, of Athens was charged with one count each of cyberstalking and extortion through interstate threats, according to court documents released by the U.S. District Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia.

He was expected to appear in U.S. District Court in Macon later in the day Friday.

According to the charging documents, beginning in October 2019 and continuing to the present, Leach obtained private video calls and photographs of a sexual nature from the victim through false promises of payment and secretly recorded the victim during these calls.

Leach allegedly threatened to share the recordings with the victim’s family if she did not continue to send him content of a sexual nature over Instagram, and repeatedly harassed and extorted the victim for additional interactions of a sexually explicit and degrading nature, according to court documents.

Leach is alleged to have used anonymous Instagram accounts to contact and harass the victim, including accounts featuring nicknames for the victim and several variations of the username “u.kno_who.”

Alleged follow requests from Instagram accounts used by Leach in January 2021

While communicating with the victim, Leach allegedly indicated to her that he engaged in similar conduct with other Instagram users, telling her in one message, “Sweetheart I have hundreds of vids and thousands of pictures meticulously categorized by name” according to the DOJ.

Leach allegedly told the victim that some of these women also did not know that they had been recorded.

The charge of stalking by electronic means provides for a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. The charge of extortion by interstate threat of injury to reputation provides for a sentence of up to two years in prison, one year of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

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