Naval Captain Convicted of Cyberstalking and Identity Theft

SAN DIEGO – U.S. Navy Captain Theodore E. Essenfeld was convicted by a federal jury of cyberstalking and stealing the identity of his former girlfriend.

During the four-day trial, the United States presented evidence that Essenfeld created imposter accounts with Facebook, LinkedIn, email, and cellular phone accounts using the woman’s name, biographical information, and photographs without her knowledge or consent. Posing as the victim, Essenfeld posted erotic and sexually explicit content to the Facebook account, as well as graphic media files or “memes.”

In addition to the materials posted on the imposter Facebook account, the United States presented evidence that Essenfeld joined Facebook dating groups using the imposter account and interacted with numerous other Facebook users while impersonating the victim, including “liking” other users’ posts, sending messages with kissy-face emojis, and sending group messages. Essenfeld linked the imposter Facebook and LinkedIn accounts to the victim’s prospective employer by following and engaging with the prospective employer’s social media accounts. He also linked the fake accounts to other aspects of the victim’s life by “liking” posts by her former co-workers, her university, the U.S. Navy, and fitness studios she previously attended.

Over 1,200 Facebook users ultimately became “friends” with the imposter account, including the victims’ former colleagues. The evidence showed that the victim reported the imposter account to Facebook over 400 times, but Facebook refused to take down the account because it appeared more authentic than the victim’s actual account due to the volume of images and level of Essenfeld’s engagement on the platform.

“The impact of cyberstalking can be as crushing as a physical blow,” said U.S. Attorney Tara McGrath. “Thanks to the persistent courage of this victim, the jury saw the damage Mr. Essenfeld inflicted in every aspect of her life – from her workplace to her gym – and today, they held him accountable for his acts of deceit and destruction.”

“Mr. Essenfeld deserves to be held to account for his cruel campaign to stalk, harass, and intimidate his victim,” said Special Agent in Charge Nicholas Carter of the NCIS Southwest Field Office. “NCIS and our law enforcement partners remain committed to protecting victims of cyberstalking and rooting out criminality that threatens Department of the Navy readiness.”

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sabrina Feve and Michael A. Deshong.

Essenfeld’s sentencing is scheduled for September 6, 2024, at 9:00 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Robert S. Huie.

DEFENDANTS                                             Case Number 23cr0177-RSH                                       

Theodore E. Essenfeld                                    Age: 52                                   Chula Vista, CA

SUMMARY OF CHARGES

  • Count 1:          Cyberstalking – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 2261A(2)(B)
    Maximum penalty: Five years in prison and $250,000 fine
  • Count 2:          Identity Theft – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 1028(a)(7)
    Maximum penalty: Fifteen years in prison and $250,000 fine

AGENCY

Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS)


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