A federal judge in New Orleans on Wednesday sentenced a North Carolina business executive to 25 years in prison for extorting a Tulane University student for sex and similarly coercing a 15-year-old boy.
The businessman, J. Michael Fowler, 51, of Charlotte, was a senior executive officer at Sato Holdings Corp. before being taken into custody last year in a sting operation organized by FBI agents who had assumed the Tulane student’s digital identity.
Most of the proceedings, including Fowler’s previously unreported guilty plea in late May, occurred under seal, an unusual circumstance that highlighted the “sensitive nature” of Fowler’s cooperation with the federal government, according to court papers made public this week.
Fowler’s defense attorney, Dylan Utley, did not return a call seeking comment late Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle sentenced Fowler to a quarter-century behind bars — the same prison term called for in his plea agreement.
The FBI accused Fowler of blackmailing the Tulane student with naked photographs for years to keep her in a sexual relationship that began when she was 16. At one point, he posted an online advertisement to Craigslist in which he offered to distribute the photographs “to any Tulane student who replied,” according to court documents.
Fowler met the student in 2011 in Tokyo, where they had sex in a hotel. Before his arrest, Fowler had ascended the ranks of Sato America, a barcode printing business whose parent company, Sato, is headquartered in Japan and listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
The two kept in touch via email, according to authorities, but Fowler became angry after the girl said she had a boyfriend her age and no longer wanted to see Fowler. The businessman threatened to tell the girl’s parents and teachers about their relationship. He also threatened to send naked photographs of her to her school.
In 2012, Fowler sent the girl an ultimatum via email, according to court documents: “Being my friend and my lover and being nice. Or not liking me at all but letting me use your body ... or get kicked out of school.”
According to the FBI, “this cycle of threats and extortion continued until August 2013,” when the girl moved to New Orleans to attend Tulane. “During that time (the victim) received hundreds of messages via email and text message from Fowler threatening to destroy her reputation unless (she) continued to maintain a sexual relationship with him,” FBI Special Agent Christopher Bauer wrote in a criminal complaint.
Fowler came to New Orleans at least three times to have sex with the student. A few weeks before his arrest, she sent him a Facebook message trying to end the relationship, telling Fowler he was causing her to have panic attacks.
Fowler reacted with more threats and claimed at one point that he would “show up on your campus and blow my head off standing next to you.” The criminal complaint says he also threatened to rape the student’s sister and roommate.
“If all of this leaves you contemplating suicide,” Fowler told the girl, “let me know so I can help.”
Fowler offered the student to spare her sister in exchange for a few nights of sex and planned to meet her on a Wednesday evening in front of The Boot, a bar near the Tulane campus. He was unaware that the student was cooperating with the FBI. He was arrested after landing at Louis Armstrong International Airport.
Court document unsealed this week show Fowler also had targeted a 15-year-old North Carolina boy in August 2014 and coerced him to have oral sex.
Federal authorities also found child pornography on Fowler’s cellphone and email account.
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