A Florida man was sentenced Monday to 12 months and one day of incarceration for cyberstalking and harassing a Charlottesville-area woman.
Agustin Alberto Lainez, 22, pleaded guilty in September in federal court in the city to one count of cyberstalking.
Per court documents, Lainez became online friends with the victim in September 2019 and later requested nude photographs of her. After initially declining, the victim later sent a nude photo of herself. After his further advances were rebuffed by the woman, Lainez demanded a nude video or said he would release her personal information.
Lainez then escalated to threatening physical harm, sending the victim a Twitter DM 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.
During Monday’s virtual hearing, Erin Trodden, an assistant federal public defender, argued that Lainez suffered from untreated depression.
“His behavior in the last few years is really consistent with untreated depression in terms of his withdrawal, his lack of interest in and engagement in in-person communication, his erratic eating and sleep patterns, including his quite alarmingly long periods of fasting,” Trodden said.
Given this vacuum of personal relationships, she said that it is understandable that Lainez’s online relationships took on an outsized and warped importance to him. The victim was initially kind to Lainez and in his warped state he became too attached and jealous, Trodden said.
“That doesn’t excuse his actions, he certainly recognizes that, but the emotions that prompted his actions are quite human and understandable ones,” she said. “What sets this case apart from some of the other cases where the court might feel greater concern is that there’s no indication that he would have been inclined to or been able to carry out any harm or threats he made to her.”
Trodden argued that the proposed search and seizure of Lainez’s computer and internet equipment without suspicion was unnecessary given the recommendation that he not have access to computer internet equipment, absent probation approval, and that any computer or internet equipment he can use will be subject to computer monitoring.
She also argued that a blanket prohibition on social media is potentially overbroad, given the occasional need to access social media for information or job-related reasons.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Heather L. Carlton argued that the court needed to protect the victim and other members of the community from online threats and harassment.
“Courts and parties, including the defense in this case, often minimize online threats because they say there’s either no physical harm to the victim or because the defendant took no steps to enforce those threats, but here we have both of those things here,” Carlton said. “First, the defendant did harm the victim. She lived in fear every single day. He took private information that he knew and he exploited it and he threatened her with it.”
Lainez threatened the victim and exploited the knowledge of past sexual violence she had experienced to further threaten her when she would not do what he requested, Carlton said.
Per portions of an impact statement that Carlton read aloud, the victim was constantly anxious and afraid, often checking her phone to ensure she didn’t miss a text message from Lainez and further set him off.
“‘I did not know how to describe what I felt during that period, it just felt like my life was over,’” Carlton said, reading from the victim impact statement. “‘I worked so hard to be in the program I was in and I was afraid everything was going to be taken away from me because of him. It felt like pending doom. He was a ticking time bomb that was going to blow at any moment.’”
As a female online gamer, the victim was aware she needed to protect her identity, Carlton said, and took steps to do such, something that Lainez exploited with threats.
Carlton also urged the court not to accept the “astonishingly sexist argument” from the defense’s sentencing memorandum that because the victim had a flirtatious online persona she deserved what she got.
“I want the victim to hear this and I want the defendant to know this: She did nothing wrong,” Carlton said. “A woman should not have to fear going out into this world and being honest about herself because it could be exploited and abused by others.”
Prior to sentencing, Lainez spoke, apologizing to his family and the victim. He said he had betrayed the trust of the victim and that he recognized the harm he caused.
“One main thing I couldn’t help thinking about during my time locked up was the amount of fear and mental distress [the victim] must have gone through for several weeks due to my actions,” he said. “I know now that not only do my actions have real-world consequences, but the severity of them, as well.”
Judge Norman K. Moon accepted the mutually agreed upon sentence of 12 months and one day. Upon release, Lainez will be subject to three years of supervised probation. He will not be able to purchase a computer or other internet-capable device without court approval. He will not be permitted to use social media, and his internet usage will be monitored and subject to search and seizure at any time.
Lainez will receive credit for the approximately nine months he already has served.