WASHINGTON - A Seattle, Washington man pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Washington for conducting cyberstalking and threat campaigns against multiple Washington residents. The victims’ names are being withheld to protect their privacy.
Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes of the Western District of Washington made the announcement.
“Joel Kurzynski’s guilty plea demonstrates that conduct occurring online can cause victims serious harm and anguish offline,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski. “While this prosecution cannot undo the damage this defendant inflicted, it sends a clear message that the Criminal Division and our law enforcement partners are firmly committed to protecting the public and aggressively pursuing malicious actors who hide behind the anonymity of the Internet.”
“This defendant thought he could use a computer keyboard to stalk and harass others with remarkable cruelty -- all while hiding in the shadows. He could not have been more wrong,” said U.S. Attorney Hayes. “Conduct that we all know is wrong in the real world, is just as wrong in cyberspace and will be punished accordingly.”
Joel Kurzynski, 38, of Seattle, Washington, a former Information Technology professional, was charged in a felony information with two counts of cyberstalking. Kurzynski had his initial appearance and pleaded guilty today before Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Brian A. Tsuchida of the Western District of Washington. The Court scheduled the sentencing hearing for Dec. 7 before Senior U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik.
According to admissions made in connection with his plea, Kurzynski engaged in an extensive and rapidly escalating cyberstalking campaign that targeted two individuals known to him. The online campaign involved -- among other things -- death threats, body shaming, and hate speech. Beginning in March 2017, Kurzynski orchestrated numerous spam phone calls to Victim 1. The conduct soon escalated to fake dating profiles wherein Kurzynski portrayed Victim 1 as seeking sadomasochistic or underage relationships. These profiles contained photographs of Victim 1 and his contact information, resulting in solicitations and harassing messages directed toward Victim 1 from multiple strangers. Kurzynski then sent several anonymous death threats to Victim 1, including the threat, “faggot. Time to die.” At one point, Kurzynski impersonated a journalist and contacted Victim 1, claiming that an upcoming article would levy sexual misconduct allegations against Victim 1 related to Victim 1’s work with a non-profit youth organization.
Kurzysnki also admitted that in November 2017, he began registering Victim 2 for numerous weight loss and suicide prevention programs, resulting in a wave of calls and emails from entities such as Overeaters Anonymous, Weight Watchers, Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention, and others. Within weeks, Kurzynski started sending anonymous death threats to Victim 2, many of which referenced Victim 2’s work address. One threat claimed that he was waiting for her in the lobby, and another that said, “Looking forward to seeing you today and how much you bleed. Don’t go to the bathroom alone.”
The U.S. Secret Service’s Seattle Field Office investigated the case with substantial assistance from the Seattle Police Department and King County Prosecutor’s Office. Trial Attorney Frank Lin of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Francis Franze-Nakamura of the Western District of Washington are prosecuting the case.
Victims of cyberstalking campaigns such as this often may be hesitant to come forward. The Justice Department encourages individuals who may be the victims of similar schemes to contact their local law enforcement agencies to report this conduct.