The FBI has arrested a North Carolina business executive who allegedly extorted a Tulane University student for sex, threatened to rape the woman’s sister and roommate and claimed he would “blow his brains out” on campus if his demands weren’t met.
The businessman, J. Michael Fowler, is accused of posting an online advertisement on Craigslist in which he sought to distribute naked photographs of the student “to any Tulane student who replied,” according to newly unsealed court documents. He allegedly used the images as blackmail, along with other threats, to keep the woman in a sexual relationship for several years, dating back to when she was 16 years old.
In a sting operation Wednesday, Fowler, 50, of Charlotte, was taken into custody at Louis Armstrong International Airport by agents who assumed the student’s digital identity in recent weeks and had anticipated his arrival.
After his most recent online tirade, in which the authorities said Fowler threatened to ruin the woman’s life, he allegedly struck a deal with the student in which he would spare her sister in exchange for a few nights of sex. He planned to meet the young woman Wednesday evening in front of The Boot, a bar just off the Tulane campus, but instead was booked with extortion.
Bespectacled and appearing confused, Fowler made his first court appearance Thursday before a federal magistrate, who determined his six-figure salary disqualified him from receiving a court-appointed attorney.
“How do I even make a phone call from where I’m at?” asked Fowler, who is being held in St. Charles Parish. He was ordered to appear in court again Tuesday for a detention hearing and Oct. 2 for a preliminary hearing.
Fowler is a senior executive officer at Sato Holdings Corp. and has served as president of Sato International America, according to the company’s website and an executive profile of Fowler on Bloomberg Businessweek. His current status with the company was not clear Thursday night.
The FBI’s criminal complaint cited an Aug. 24 voice mail, left on the Tulane student’s phone, in which Fowler supposedly said he was “finished” and had “pretty much lost my job.” In court, however, he reported earning an income of $260,000 a year before taxes.
The company did not respond to messages seeking comment, and a product manager with Sato who answered his cellphone late Thursday said he wasn’t aware of the arrest. The company’s website says Fowler has “held a number of key positions within Sato America,” which bills itself as a leader in barcode printing. The parent company, Sato, is headquartered in Japan and listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
Fowler met the alleged victim after she placed a Craiglist advertisement for casual encounters in Tokyo, according to a criminal complaint signed by FBI Special Agent Christopher M. Bauer. The ad was titled “I need a master — w4m,” using shorthand for “woman looking for man,” the complaint says.
Fowler responded to the post, “Tell me more about what you are looking for,” according to the complaint. “I am interested.”
He began receiving nude photos of the girl, still a teenager at the time, and asked to see her in her “school girl outfit” in a series of lewd exchanges, the complaint says. In all, the girl sent him about 100 sexually explicit photographs of herself.
In September 2011, Fowler met the girl and had sex with her at a hotel in Tokyo, the complaint says. The two continued to correspond via email, it says, and Fowler became angry when the girl “indicated that she had a boyfriend her own age or wished to terminate their arrangement.”
In October 2011, Fowler allegedly threatened to tell the girl’s parents and teachers about their relationship. “Maybe I should send your naked pictures to your school and tell them what you have been doing,” he wrote in one email, according to the complaint.
A few months later, in March 2012, Fowler drafted a letter to the girl’s principal and, in an email to the girl, warned she had a decision to make: “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.”
The girl met Fowler again that month to prevent him from “carrying out his threats,” the complaint says.
“This cycle of threats and extortion continued until August 2013,” the complaint says, 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.”
Fowler came to New Orleans on at least three occasions last school year to have sex with the student, according to the FBI. Last month, she sent him a Facebook message attempting to end the relationship, saying he was stressing her out and causing her to have frequent panic attacks.
Fowler sent more threats over the next several days, the complaint says, in which he claimed he would “show up on your campus and blow my head off standing next to you.”
He also threatened to hurt the student and rape her sister and roommate, the complaint says, saying he had made it his “full-time mission to make you pay for what you did to me.” At one point, the complaint says, he even named a time of day he would carry out his threat and attached a photograph of the girl’s sister to that message.
“If all of this leaves you contemplating suicide,” he added, according to the complaint, “let me know so I can help.”
Around the same time, Fowler also began contacting the girl’s employer, the complaint says, accusing her of “leaking confidential company information as well as accepting money in exchange for sex.” The complaint says Fowler sent emails to four of the student’s classmates at Tulane, claiming she “worked as a prostitute, was mentally unstable and had several sexually transmitted diseases.”
The student gave her cellphone to the FBI late last month, and an undercover agent began exchanging messages with Fowler. Agents also responded to the suspect’s Craigslist ad and received nude photos of the student from Fowler, who allegedly encouraged them to distribute the photographs around campus.
Believing he was still communicating with the student, Fowler coerced her into a “deal” in which he would come to New Orleans and have sex with her in exchange for not harming her sister, the complaint says.
“Please don’t make me fly all the way down there and not show up,” he wrote. “A confirmation would be nice.”
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