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The Virginia Department of Elections launches absentee voting campaign

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RICHMOND, VA – The Virginia Department of Elections wants Virginia voters to know that they are free to be absentee! The Department today announced “Free to Be Absentee”, their new awareness campaign designed to educate voters about absentee and early voting to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

The campaign features a series of contemporary and entertaining digital ads and social media content that highlight a creative focus on the absentee and early voting processes. This information will be made available on the Department’s website here, and shared with media outlets across the Commonwealth.

“We are excited about our new campaign and committed to ensuring that all eligible Virginia voters are able to make their voices heard,” said Christopher Piper, Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Elections. “We want voters to know about all of the options they have to cast their ballots for the upcoming election.”

While absentee voting is not new to Virginians, after new legislation passed by the VA General Assembly that went into effect July 1, 2020, Virginia voters no longer need an excuse to vote absentee. Any registered voter may request an absentee ballot or go vote early in person. Absentee ballots will begin being mailed out on September 18th, the same day early voting begins in all localities throughout the Commonwealth.

Voters with questions about absentee, mail-in and in-person voting or any aspect of the November 3, 2020 election may call the Virginia Department of Elections at (800) 552-9745, email the department at info@elections.virginia.gov, or visit our website at elections.virginia.gov/absentee. Voters are also encouraged to follow us on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram social media platforms.

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Statewide teen seat belt challenge launches “Buckle Up” design contest and free traffic safety kits

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SALEM, VA — Students, schools, and youth groups across Virginia are kicking off a statewide campaign this week to increase seat belt usage rates among teens and youth.

Through a new, virtual format, the five‐week campaign, Drive for Change: Buckle Up and Slow Down will encourage youth and teens to develop a lifelong buckle up habit by reminding them that seat belts are their best defense against injury and death in a crash. In 2019, 65 teens aged 15-20 were killed in crashes in Virginia and of those teens, 56% were not wearing seat belts. According to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), 2020 preliminary data reveals 37 teens have been killed on Virginia’s roadways from January 1 through August 31, 2020 and of those, 19 (59%) were unbelted.

“The simple step of buckling a seat belt saves lives but, sadly, we are seeing an increase in the percentage of unrestrained teens killed in crashes in Virginia this year,” said Mary King, YOVASO Program Manager. “Through the ‘Drive for Change’ campaign, we are challenging our teens to change that statistic by influencing and encouraging each other to always buckle up. We hope every teen in Virginia will join the campaign and use their creativity to help save lives.”

In addition to buckling up, the campaign will also address speed prevention which remains a key factor in all fatal crashes involving a young driver with approximately half of fatal teen crashes being caused by excessive speed.

As part of the campaign, Virginia students ages 11-20 will be encouraged to participate in the #DriveForChange Sticker Design Contest by designing a sticker/decal with a buckle up and/or slow down message that will influence youth and teens to wear their seat belt and follow posted speed limits. The winning design will be selected by popular vote on social media during National Teen Driver Safety Week (October 18-24) and announced on October 23. Prizes will be awarded for the top five designs with first place receiving $100, having their artwork produced as a sticker for YOVASO’s 2021 Arrive Alive campaign, and will also receive 100 stickers to share with his/her friends. The other four finalists will receive $25. Contest Guidelines can be found online at www.yovaso.org/driveforchange.

Students may also participate in the campaign by registering for a #DriveForChange kit that includes driver and passenger safety resources, project ideas, and other fun items! Additional options for schools, youth groups, and parents to get involved can be explored on YOVASO’s website.

Drive for Change: Buckle Up and Slow Down is funded by a grant from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles with additional funding from State Farm, which supports prizes and educational incentives and materials.

“State Farm’s primary goal is to keep drivers safe behind the wheel,” said State Farm spokesperson Kate Beadle. “This campaign is a creative reminder to young drivers to always wear seat belts and obey the speed limit. With these actions, the number of accidents, serious injuries and deaths will be reduced.”


For more information or to register for free campaign materials for your school or youth group, contact Casey Taylor, Program Development Coordinator at 540-739-4392 or visit yovaso.org.

Schools and Youth Groups participating in the 2020 Drive for Change: Buckle Up and Slow Down campaign:

  • Auburn Middle School, Montgomery Co.
  • Bristol’s Promise, Washington Co.
  • Central Academy Middle School, Botetourt Co.
  • Eastern Montgomery High School, Montgomery Co.
  • Fluvanna County High School, Fluvanna Co.
  • Forest Middle School, Bedford Co.
  • Galileo Magnet High School, Danville City
  • George Wythe High School, Richmond City
  • Heritage High School, Newport News City
  • Hidden Valley High School, Roanoke Co.
  • Jefferson Forest High School, Bedford Co.
  • L.C. Bird High School, Chesterfield Co.
  • Liberty High School, Bedford Co.
  • Louisa County High School, Louisa Co.
  • Louisa County Middle School, Louisa Co.
  • Luray High School, Page Co.
  • Mallory’s Movement Against Drunk Driving, Chesterfield Co.
  • Narrows High School, Giles co.
  • Page County High School, Page Co.
  • Randolph-Henry High School, Charlotte Co.
  • REACH Homeschool Group, Orange Co.
  • Rockbridge County High School, Rockbridge Co.
  • Walker-Grant Middle School, Stafford Co.
  • Woodrow Wilson High School, Portsmouth City
  • William Byrd High School, Roanoke Co.

Students are also participating from the following schools and universities:

  • Beverley Manor Middle School, Augusta Co.
  • Breckinridge Middle School, Roanoke City
  • Bridgeway Academy, Chesapeake City
  • Broadwater Academy, Northampton Co.
  • Broadway High School, Rockingham Co.
  • Brooke Point High School, Stafford Co.
  • Centerville High School, Fairfax Co.
  • Christiansburg High School
  • Christopher Newport University
  • Colgan High School, Prince William Co.
  • Dinwiddie County High School, Dinwiddie Co.
  • Floyd County High school, Floyd Co.
  • George Wythe High School, Wythe Co.
  • Glenvar High School, Roanoke Co.
  • Graham High School, Tazewell Co.
  • Hanover County High School, Hanover Co.
  • James Madison University
  • John I Burton High School, Norton City
  • John P. Fishwick Middle School, Roanoke City
  • Jouett Elementary School, Louisa Co.
  • King George High School, King George Co.
  • Lancaster High School, Lancaster Co.
  • Menchville High School, Newport News City
  • Milboro Elementary School, Bath Co.
  • Monacan High School, Chesterfield Co.
  • North Stafford High School, Stafford Co.
  • Oak Knoll Middle School, Hanover Co.
  • Park View High School, Mecklenburg Co.
  • Patrick Henry High School, Roanoke City
  • Penn Foster High School, King George Co.
  • Prices Fork Elementary, Montgomery Co.
  • Radford High School, Montgomery Co.
  • Rodney Thompson Middle School, Stafford Co.
  • Salem High School, Salem City
  • South County High School, Fairfax Co.
  • Staunton River High School, Bedford Co.
  • Stuarts Draft High School, Augusta Co.
  • Tabb High School, York Co.
  • William Campbell Combined School, Campbell Co.
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LFCC launches new podcast series “LFCC Stories”

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Just in time for LFCC’s 50th anniversary, the college is launching its first-ever podcast series.

“LFCC Stories” will feature LFCC students, alumni and professors sharing their inspiring and heartwarming real-life stories.

“The podcast gives those who make LFCC such a special place – our students, former students and our faculty – the chance to share their stories in a more in-depth and intimate way than they have ever been able to do before,” says Marketing Director Brandy Boies, who is spearheading the project. “We have had so many amazing people walk through our doors, and this is a great opportunity to share their experiences and successes – and challenges – with a wider audience.”

Janet Michael, an experienced interviewer who hosts The Valley Today on The River 95.3 and owns Java Media, is hosting the podcast for LFCC.

You can find the podcast by searching “LFCC Stories” on Apple Podcast or Spotify, or listen online by clicking on the podcast link at the bottom of the LFCC homepage, lfcc.edu.

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Governor Northam casts vote in November General Election on first day of early voting in Virginia

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Governor Ralph Northam voted early Friday morning, September 18th, in person at the Richmond general registrar’s office on the first day of Virginia’s 45-day early voting period.

New laws allow all Virginians to vote absentee by mail, or in person at their local registrar’s office or satellite locations. The Governor signed legislation this year removing a previous provision that required absentee voters to provide a reason for voting early, so any Virginia voter may vote early without providing a specific reason.

“Virginians can be confident their vote is secure and will be counted,” said Governor Northam. “While the pandemic has made this an unprecedented election year, Virginia voters have several safe and easy ways to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Voting is an essential part of our democracy, and I encourage every Virginia voter to know their options and make a plan for safely casting their ballot.”

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a higher number of Virginians are expected to vote by mail in the 2020 election. As of Thursday, the Department of Elections had received 824,000 requests for absentee ballots by mail. For comparison, 566,000 votes were cast absentee in the 2016 General Election—half by mail.

Virginians have several options for safely casting their ballots for the November General Election.

Absentee by Mail
Beginning today, September 18, Virginia general registrars will mail absentee ballots to voters who request them. Virginians can request a ballot online at elections.virginia.gov. The last day to request an absentee ballot by mail is Friday, October 23 at 5:00 p.m.

All absentee ballots will include a return envelope with prepaid postage. Ballots with a postmark of November 3 or earlier will be accepted until noon on Friday, November 6.

As an additional layer of security, every absentee ballot envelope is required to have an intelligent mail barcode and an election mail insignia. The insignia tells the United States Postal Service that this piece of mail is a ballot and should be prioritized. The barcode lets voters track their ballot once it leaves the registrar’s office—so a voter will know when their ballot has been mailed to them, and when it is delivered back to the registrar. Voters can track their absentee ballot using the absentee ballot lookup tool available here.

Drop-off Locations
Absentee ballots may also be hand-delivered to your local registrar’s office or returned to a secure drop-off location, which includes any satellite voting location. A list of drop-off locations is available on your county or city’s official website. On Election Day, you can also drop off your completed absentee ballot at any polling place in the county or city in which you are registered to vote.

For voters who prefer to vote in person, there are two options.

Early In Person
Starting today, September 18, Virginia voters can vote absentee in person at their local registrar’s office as Governor Northam did. Voters can simply go to their local general registrar’s office or a satellite voting location identified by the registrar’s office and cast their vote. Voters may use this option through Saturday, October 31—one of the longest early voting periods of any state.

Election Day
The other option is the traditional one: voting in person on Election Day, Tuesday, November 3, at your polling place. Polls will be open from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Virginia has allocated federal CARES Act funding to ensure that all election officers have personal protective equipment, and Virginia Medical Reserve Corps volunteers will assist at polling places to ensure social distancing and sanitization measures are followed.

Virginia considers election security to be a top priority and has made significant progress in recent years to ensure a secure election process that places election integrity and voter confidence at the forefront. Additional information about election security in Virginia can be found here.

To register to vote or learn more about absentee voting in Virginia, visit elections.virginia.gov/absentee. Answers to frequently asked questions can be found here.

Follow the Department of Elections on Twitter at @vaElect, on Facebook at @VirginiaELECT, and on Instagram at @va_election.

See below for photos of Governor Northam casting his ballot at the Richmond general registrar’s office today.

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The new on-campus college experience: self-isolation and distraction

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Social isolation due to the coronavirus has become a stressor for many college students across Virginia, who report that studying is more difficult and their mental health is suffering.

Shane Emory, a senior broadcast journalism major at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, says he is experiencing this firsthand. While the dorms are quieter overall, there is very little opportunity to escape distractions. Emory says that his guitar and television are the top two things that draw him away from work.

Since the pandemic swept the nation, altered routines have become the new normal. Students who usually study in the library say that is no longer an option to consider lightly. Many students say the best option is to stay put and endure distractions and loneliness rather than risk contracting the virus or unknowingly endangering someone else.

Camryn Nesmith, a junior nursing major at Liberty University in Lynchburg, says that increased social isolation has taken a toll on her concentration and mental well-being. She also says that it is difficult to escape from loud noises and distractions in her dorm.

“There has been an effect on my school work because I don’t do well-doing schoolwork in my dorm. I need to be in the library or somewhere like that,” she says. “I try to get my work done early in the morning when it’s quiet.”

Nesmith feels that Liberty prioritizes the safety of its students and that there are always people enforcing the rules and making sure everyone wears a mask. The university is currently reporting 184 total cases since Sept. 2. Almost 490 on-campus students are currently quarantined, along with 492 commuters and 139 employees.

Marian Woodington, a sophomore vocal music education major at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, says via email that she initially attended in-person classes, albeit reluctantly. Cases quickly spiked at the Harrisonburg-based university, hitting over 500 the first-week classes resumed.

“I did feel reluctant because, since there were not harsh regulations, anyone could have sat in the seat that I chose, and they could be sick,” she says. “The rooms were only cleaned at certain times throughout the day and you never know what someone else has touched when walking into a building.”

JMU classes were moved online about a week after starting consultation with the Virginia Department of Health. As of Friday, the university has reported almost 1,400 total coronavirus cases since Aug. 17.

The pandemic has caused a significant mental health impact on students. More students are using VCU support services, according to Jihad Aziz, the interim executive director of VCU University Counseling Services. Students who have sought counseling this semester raise many concerns such as worry over family members and the fear of contracting the coronavirus, Aziz said in an email.

The office has implemented some new methods in response, such as offering support groups for students that meet weekly over Zoom.

“We know that students are seeking connection and it’s important that they know that they are not alone during these difficult times,” Aziz says. “We have support groups specifically for students of color, those with chronic health issues, health professional students, and a few others.”

VCU initially experienced a spike in cases when a cluster of 44 positive cases connected to VCU Athletics was reported in the second week of classes. The university has reported a total of 251 cases since Aug. 17.

COVID-19 and the accompanying economic recession have negatively affected the mental health of many people, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. A Kaiser poll taken in mid-July reported that 53% of U.S. adults say their anxiety levels have increased significantly due to stress associated with COVID-19. Adults also reported difficulties sleeping and eating due to worry and stress over the coronavirus.

Rickaya Sykes, a junior theatre performance major at VCU, has a different perspective on how staying inside has affected her mental health. She considers herself an extrovert but says that prolonged periods indoors have improved her concentration and time management.

“I’m able to relax knowing that I don’t want to go out because of the virus,” she says. “I can stay in and cook, I can watch movies, and I don’t feel pressured to be on the go all the time. I find it soothing to not have plans to go anywhere.”

According to the CDC, taking time to relax and unwind can be a good way to cope with stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like Sykes, Emory also is taking time to relax. When the call of his guitar becomes too loud to ignore, he puts down the books and picks it up.

By Hunter Britt

Capital News Service

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U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen announces departure

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U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen announced today that he is resigning from the Department of Justice, effective Tuesday, September 15, at 12:00 p.m. Cullen, 43, who has served as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia since March 30, 2018, made this announcement following his Senate confirmation to become a U.S. District Judge in the Western District of Virginia.

“U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen has served the Department of Justice and the citizens of the Western District of Virginia with honor and distinction,” U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr said today. “During his tenure, the office made meaningful strides towards reducing violent crime, mitigating the opioid epidemic, and increasing cooperation among federal, state, and local law-enforcement agencies. As he moves into his new role as a federal district judge, I am confident that he will remain steadfast in his commitment to equal justice and the rule of law.”

“Serving as U.S. Attorney has been the highlight of my career,” Cullen stated today. “I am enormously proud of the dedicated public servants in this office and the work that they—along with our many brave law-enforcement partners—do to protect the public.”

Under Cullen’s leadership, the U.S. Attorney’s Office focused on implementing the Attorney General’s priorities of combatting violent crime and the opioid epidemic. He also personally directed the federal civil rights prosecutions stemming from the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.

As part of the national Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) program, Cullen and the prosecutors in his office have worked closely with federal, state, and local law enforcement in the Roanoke Valley, the Danville-Pittsylvania County region, and the greater Lynchburg area to identify individuals and groups responsible for committing violent, firearms, gang-related, and serious drug offenses and prosecute them in federal court. These coordinated efforts led to a significant increase in the number of defendants prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, from 267 in fiscal year 2018, to 410 in 2019 (a 54 percent increase overall), and contributed to a substantial decrease in the rate of violent crime in Danville over a similar time period.

U.S. Attorney Cullen also directed a multifaceted federal response to the opioid epidemic that has ravaged the region over the past several years. His prosecutors have obtained convictions of over a dozen physicians and other health-care providers for the unlawful distribution of controlled substances and related criminal conduct. The office also has secured convictions and civil settlements against numerous corporate entities engaged in the unlawful distribution of controlled substances. In recognition of this hard work and the office’s long track record of success in prosecuting corrupt medical providers, Attorney General William P. Barr, in April 2019, announced that he would expand DOJ’s Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force (ARPO) to the Western District of Virginia. The ARPO Strike Force is composed of prosecutors and data analysts from DOJ’s Health Care Fraud Unit who deploy to participating districts to support the prosecution of individuals and organizations engaged in the unlawful distribution of opioids. With these additional investigative resources, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has been able to increase the number of prosecutions in this critical area.

In addition to its enforcement efforts, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, under Cullen’s leadership, has productively collaborated with local community groups and treatment advocates on effective opioid prevention and recovery initiatives. In late 2018, U.S. Attorney Cullen convened a meeting with leaders from Carilion Clinic in Roanoke and public-health officials from Buffalo, NY, to discuss “Buffalo Matters,” a community-based program designed to aid patients with the opioid-use disorder through rapid referrals from emergency rooms to community-based clinics upon discharge. As a result of this meeting and Carilion’s commitment to implementing the Buffalo Matters model, Roanoke Memorial Hospital has made significant progress in directing opioid-use disorder patients to treatment programs and, in turn, significantly reducing the number of ER visits. The office also recently announced the formation of a Heroin Education Action Team (HEAT), a partnership between the U.S. Attorney’s office and families who have lost love ones to opioid overdose. Once in-person classroom instruction resumes, the HEAT team will deploy to school districts around the region and speak to students and their families about the dangers and tragedies associated with opioid use. Cullen was also proud to partner with Chief U.S. District Judge Michael F. Urbanski and the federal public defender to launch a federal drug-treatment court, one of only a handful of federal drug courts nationwide.

Cullen also devoted a significant amount of his time to the “Unite the Right” prosecutions. In July 2019, his prosecution team obtained a life sentence for James Fields Jr., who perpetrated an act of domestic terrorism in Charlottesville that killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer and seriously injured over 30 peaceful protestors. They also successfully prosecuted several members of the militant white-supremacist group the Rise Above Movement (RAM), who traveled from California and committed numerous acts of violence. He and his team also convicted an avowed white supremacist on civil rights and cyberstalking charges for threatening a prospective candidate for the Charlottesville City Council and the minor autistic daughter of a community activist. Cullen, who served on DOJ’s Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee while U.S. Attorney, was particularly outspoken about the alarming rise of violence by white supremacists in the United States.

In addition to these successful prosecutions, the office’s civil division has significantly increased its efforts in the areas of civil fraud enforcement and federal debt collection. In April 2020, the division announced a landmark $5 million settlement with a group of 24 coal companies owned and operated by the family of West Virginia Governor Jim Justice for unpaid violations of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act. The division’s newly reconstituted affirmative civil enforcement (ACE) group has also successfully assessed monetary penalties against medical professionals, hospitals, and pharmacies for violations of the Controlled Substances Act and health-care fraud.

As U.S. Attorney, Cullen widely traveled the district to meet with his federal, state, and local law-enforcement counterparts. He visited over 50 local commonwealth’s attorneys’ offices during his tenure and met with scores of local sheriffs, police chiefs, and other community officials. Several of his key law-enforcement partners reacted to today’s announcement:

“Over the last several years, Thomas Cullen and the office he runs have provided the type of law enforcement leadership that has made Americans in general, and Virginians in particular, safer,” said David W. Archey, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Richmond Division. “Mr. Cullen is a true partner to the FBI and a professional. He is aggressive though not a zealot, he seeks just outcomes, and he executes his authority with humility. Each of these qualities will continue to serve our country and our Commonwealth well from the Bench.”

“I congratulate U.S. Attorney Cullen on his appointment to the Federal bench and thank him for his steadfast support to both myself and the ATF Washington Field Division,” said Ashan M. Benedict, Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Washington Field Division. “Working together, we successfully coordinated the investigation and prosecution of an ever-increasing number of criminal cases within the Western District of Virginia – a testament to our mutual commitment to public safety and the rule of law. I wish Thomas all the best as he continues his distinguished career in public service.”

“In 2016 and 2017, the City of Danville, Virginia, was experiencing an extreme surge in violent crime, specifically gang-related violent crime. Homicides and shootings were becoming a regular occurrence, and our community was suffering. In 2018, working with the Office of the United States Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, under the leadership of Thomas Cullen, we were able to effectively prosecute several high-ranking gang members for these violent crimes, as a result, our community is now a much safer place,” said Danville Police Chief Scott C. Booth. “In 2019, our community experienced a 31 percent reduction in homicides, a 42 percent reduction in aggravated assaults, and a 63 percent reduction in robberies. Danville is a much safer place now because of Thomas Cullen and his leadership. Danville Police Department’s efforts including the implementation of Project Safe Neighborhoods have resulted in drops in every violent crime category from 2018 to 2019.”

“I would like to offer my congratulations to Mr. Cullen on his confirmation as a federal judge. During his time as U.S. Attorney, Mr. Cullen has worked closely with local law enforcement to ensure that those people who victimize our citizens are brought to justice,” said Roanoke County Police Chief Howard B. Hall. “His contributions to our regional efforts have led to the successful conclusion of numerous significant investigations. He has been a great partner. While we will miss him locally, I am confident that he will make great contributions to our criminal justice system as a judge.”

“My staff and I have had the opportunity to work with Mr. Cullen in his capacity as the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia. Our region, like many other communities in the country, has been plagued by heroin trafficking and the devastation that it has on families,” said Shenandoah County Sheriff Timothy Carter. “As the U.S. Attorney, Mr. Cullen has been extremely sensitive to this devastation, and has worked hard to bring federal resources to bear, making a local impact in both enforcement for traffickers, and treatment for those addicted. Mr. Cullen is straight-forward, honest, and practical. He has a temperament and organizational skills to be a solid member of the federal judiciary. He makes sound and lawful decisions.”

“It has been a true pleasure working with U. S. Attorney Thomas Cullen these past 2 years. He was highly responsive and open to discuss partnerships that furthered community safety in Lynchburg,” said Bethany Harrison, Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Lynchburg. “It is no surprise to me that he was confirmed for a Federal Judgeship. We will miss him terribly and wish him the best in his new endeavor.”

Attorney General Barr will announce Cullen’s replacement in the coming days.

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Florida man pleads guilty to cyberstalking Charlottesville-area woman

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Agustin Alberto Lainez, a Florida man who harassed a Charlottesville-area woman and threatened to physically harm her and expose publicly her personal information, pleaded guilty yesterday in U.S. District Court here to federal cyberstalking. United States Attorney Thomas T. Cullen and David W. Archey, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Richmond Division made the announcement today, September 10, 2020.

“This defendant used a keyboard to harass the victim in this case with remarkable cruelty, to the point of causing her panic attacks—all while trying to hide in the shadows of the internet,” First Assistant United States Attorney Daniel P. Bubar said today. “This abhorrent conduct of extortion and blackmail is just as wrong in cyberspace and will be punished accordingly. I am proud of the work of the FBI for bringing this defendant to justice and allowing the victim at least some semblance of peace.”

Lainez, 22, of Sanford, Fla., pleaded guilty yesterday to one count of cyberstalking. At sentencing, Lainez faces a maximum possible penalty of up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $250,000, as well as a period of supervised release.

According to court documents, in approximately September 2019, Lainez became friends with the Victim online, and the two started talking through Twitter Direct Messages (DMs). In January 2020, Lainez requested a nude photograph of the Victim. The Victim initially declined but later relented.

Over the next several weeks, Lainez asked if the Victim would have a sexual relationship with him and informed the Victim that he would only be able to “move on” and be friends with the Victim if they had sexual intercourse. When the Victim declined his advances, Lainez demanded a nude video, threatening to expose the Victim’s personal information if she did not send nude videos as he had demanded.

The Victim still declined.

When threats of exposure failed to work, Lainez threatened physical harm. On February 21, 2020, Lainez sent a Twitter DM to the Victim showing a screenshot in which Lainez is directing other Twitter users to “please beat [her] ass…” In another Twitter DM, Lainez threatened to rape the Victim.

In another screenshot, Lainez sent the Victim what appears to be a “Notes” page that included the Victim’s name, high school, city of residence, university, telephone number, and other sensitive information. Lainez added a message, “On my draft ready go go [sic] and I’m adding more.” Fearful that Lainez would follow through with his threats, the Victim gave in to Lainez’s demand for a nude video of herself. However, this did not stop Lainez’s abusive behavior, which continued on an almost daily basis for weeks.

In his Twitter DMs, Lainez repeatedly admitted that he was extorting the Victim. For example, in one DM, Lainez stated that he was going to “keep Blackmailing you and adding things for you to do whenever you lie or I think you’re lying to me.” In another DM, Lainez wrote, “Lowkey hate this and like it at the same time, I just wish I didn’t have to literally blackmail you for you to tell me the truth and not be a whore lol.”

As a result of his actions, the Victim lived in constant fear, was subject to emotional distress, and suffered panic attacks.

The investigation of the case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant United States Attorney Heather L. Carlton is prosecuting the case for the United States.

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