Update (5/30/17):Evidently, “I forget” may be a valid defense. On Tuesday, a Florida judge sided with extortion suspect Wesley Victor, who claimed he forgot the passcode to his Blackberry when a court order demanded access. The development means Victor will not be held in contempt, nor will he face jail time for not abiding by a court order to unlock his mobile phone for the police. Victor’s co-defendant, Hencha Voigt, has been rescheduled to appear in a Miami-Dade courtroom next week in order to explain why she hasn’t divulged the password to her iPhone. The decision comes after another Florida court recently enforced court-ordered password divulging. In a separate case, a Broward County judge ordered a child-abuse suspect to spend 180 days in jail for providing the police the wrong passcode to his phone. “I swear, under oath, I’ve given them the password,” said the man, before he was whisked off to jail on Tuesday. Our original feature on Victor and Voigt’s situation appears unchanged below.
On May 30, two suspects accused of extorting the so-called “Queen of Snapchat” as part of a sex-tape scandal are scheduled to appear in a Florida court. But as wild as the premise sounds, primarily the accused need only to answer a simple question on this visit. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Charles Johnson wants an explanation as to why Hencha Voigt and her then boyfriend, Wesley Victor, can’t remember the passcodes to their mobile phones.
If he doesn’t believe them or if they remain silent, the two suspects face possible contempt charges and indefinite jail time for refusing a court order to unlock their phones so prosecutors can examine text messages. Their defense to that order, however, rests on an unsettled area of law. Voigt and Victor maintain that a court order requiring them to unlock an encrypted device is a breach of the Fifth Amendment right to be free from compelled self-incrimination.
If things don’t go their way in court Tuesday, the duo certainly wouldn’t be the first ones ordered to prison for failing to abide by a judge’s decryption order. They likely won’t be the last ones, either.
Voigt and Victor’s escapade reads like a sort of present-day Law & Order plot. Voigt previously maintained some level of local celebrity in Miami, having starred in an E! show about women and athletes called Wags Miami. But the alleged victim—the “Queen of Snapchat” Julieanna Goddard, aka YesJulz—arguably dwarfed that public profile. Once the subject of a New York Times profile, Goddard boasts hundreds of thousands of followers across various social media, but the Snapchat platform is what reportedly elevated her to celebrity status. She has rubbed elbows with more traditional celebs at the Grammys and the NBA All-Star Game and has been namechecked in rap songs as a result of her work. To paint a fuller picture, Elite Daily proclaimed Goddard as friends with Lebron James and said the twenty something is “living the Millennial Dream.”
But on July 21, 2016, the dream nearly became a nightmare. That afternoon, Goddard’s personal assistant received a flurry of peculiar text messages. According to court documents (PDF), Voigt reached out to let Goddard know someone had “hacked” the Snapchat star’s phone and “obtained compromising sex videos of Ms. Goddard which they were trying to sell.” Voigt went on to send screenshots and short clips as proof that “these unspecified individuals actually had the compromising videos.”
Luckily, Voigt continued, the would-be blackmailers would contact Goddard using a trap phone. “But don’t threaten them, be super nice,” Voigt warned. “U give them the money… And they don’t do something w it.”
As these texts took place, court documents show Voigt allegedly engaged in multiple calls with Victor. Voigt eventually sent her then-boyfriend Goddard’s phone number, and the man sprung into action. “This text is in behalf go the videos we have,” Victor texted to Goddard around 6pm. “You have 24hrs have a wonderful evening… 2 videos in total one with robb banks and one with rambo the photographer i’ll give u further instruction shortly.”
The next day at 2pm, the conversation between Victor and Goddard resumed. Goddard reached out to ask how she’d get the videos back. “18k cash there on usb you can have them back as I said you dope chick I like your movement,” Victor replied according to court records. “look if I feel any fun business GAME OVER your choice have a great day.”
What Victor and Voigt didn’t know, however, was that Miami Beach Police Department (MBPD) officers seemed to be aware of the situation by this point. Within minutes of the extortion texts, police apprehended Victor and Voigt together inside a parked vehicle within the vicinity of 1000 West Avenue in Miami Beach. The duo had four phones with them—Voigt’s iPhone 6 and three devices (a BlackBerry, a Samsung, and an iPhone 6S) belonging to Victor. According to a police complaint, Victor even tried to hide a device by sitting on it when authorities asked to search the vehicle.
MBPD detectives eventually obtained a search warrant to examine all four phones. But when digital forensics expert Ricardo Arias attempted to search the devices the following month, he ran into dead-ends. He determined all four phone numbers, but “he was unable to fully examine the contents of either Phone A [Voigt’s iPhone] or Phone B [Victor’s BlackBerry] because each of those phones were locked via a passcode with no available bypass,” according to court documents.
Both Voigt and Victor were charged with extortion (and unfortunately for Goddard, the alleged sex tapes managed to leak online following the duo’s arrest). Florida authorities suspect Voigt’s and Victor’s phones might have incriminating evidence, such as further text messages, linking them to the alleged extortion scheme. The messages that the government is trying to review are iMessages from Voigt to Victor that “do not appear in telephone service provider records as anything other than generic data usage.” The government also maintains (PDF) that “the only practical way of determining whether iMessages were sent or received from a particular phone is to actually examine the contents of the phone.”
During a hearing on April 25, 2017, prosecutors formally asked the courts to compel the unlocking of these phones. Accordingly, Voigt’s team unveiled its Fifth Amendment defense. “This is a fishing expedition,” Voigt’s attorney, Kertch Conze, told the judge, according to the Miami Herald. “You are asking my client to be compelled to divulge her thought process. This is not a fingerprint or a blood sample for DNA purposes. It’s what is in her mind and what we believe can be incriminating and a violation of her right to remain silent.”
But on May 3, Judge Johnson sided with the prosecution on the matter and ordered the two defendants to unlock their phones. He likened this command to “turning over a key to a safety deposit box,” and the judge put the defendants on the clock to comply. But Voigt and Victor’s team responded by saying the accused forgot their passcodes. Their stated memory loss essentially amounts to a chess move, and this week it leaves Judge Johnson to decide whether they should be held in contempt of court or perhaps imprisoned indefinitely until they divulge the code. (People found in contempt of court can be held in prison until they comply with a court order.)
More Info: arstechnica.com