Two men who took part in a scheme to blackmail a teenage girl by threatening to send explicit photos from her 'OnlyFans' account to her family and headmaster if she did not give them €10,000 have failed in appeals against the length of their jail sentences.
David Ostrowski (21) told his older brother, Daniel Stepien (27), about the account that his friend, the injured party, had set up. The victim, who was then 18, had told a select group of trusted friends and had set the account up so it could not be accessed in Ireland.
Stepien, who had a gambling addiction at the time, then began to message the teenager and threatened to send the photographs to her father, family, school headmaster and friends if she did not pay him €10,000. Stepien then sent her screenshots of her father’s Facebook page and photographs of her home.
At the trial, Garda Des Mulvihill told Eoghan Cole BL, prosecuting, the teenager ultimately contacted gardaí, who then launched a sting operation. They advised the woman to contact her blackmailer and arrange to meet up to pay the €10,000.
The woman went to a bank, pretended to withdraw the cash and went to a location in Clonsilla, Dublin, where she had been told that a certain car would be parked. She was instructed to leave the envelope of cash by the car and a third man, Dawid Michalik, was later seen arriving at the car to pick up the envelope.
The envelope was not where Michalik expected it to be and gardaí kept the vehicle under surveillance until both Ostrowski and Stepien arrived. All three were then arrested.
Stepien, of Annfield Court, Clonsilla, Dublin 15, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to making an unwarranted demand for €10,000 with menaces on dates between March 6th and March 9th, 2021. He had previous six convictions for minor offences.
Michalik (37), of Parklands, Northwood, Dublin 9, pleaded guilty to the same offence of making demands of €10,000 and had nine convictions for road traffic offences.
Ostrowski, also of Annfield Court, Clonsilla, Dublin 15, pleaded guilty to demanding money with menaces. He had no previous convictions.
In November last year at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, Judge Martin Nolan jailed Michalik for two years and Stepien received a sentence of three-and-a-half years. Ostrowski's age in March 2021 meant he did not receive a custodial sentence and was given 150 hours of community service in lieu of 21 months' imprisonment.
Stepien and Michalik, who both had cannabis possession charges taken into account, appealed the length of their sentences.
At the Court of Appeal, Kitty Perle BL, for Michalik, argued her client's role in the plan was "minimal" in that he was providing the car that was to be parked in Dublin 15, where the complainant was to leave the money demanded. Michalik was to receive €1,500 for the use of the car in the plot.
Ms Perle said the "orchestrator and main brain" was Stepien and that this had been the State's case at the trial. The barrister said Stepien had come up with the plan after his younger brother, Ostrowski, who was in school with the injured party, had been made aware of her source of income.
Mr Justice Edwards said Michalik knew he was being asked to provide a car for a "sinister and illegal" act.
Ms Perle said her client told gardaí he did not know the details of the plan "but he knew there was something". The barrister said the "totality of his involvement was to drive the car to the location".
Ms Perle said the sentencing judge did not afford any credit for Michalik's guilty plea, which was entered at the "earliest opportunity". She added that no rehabilitation was factored into the sentence and no portion had been suspended.
Ms Perle said her client had never been in prison before being sentenced. She noted he had nine road traffic offences to his name but was "otherwise of good character".
Ms Justice George Birmingham said Michalik had "limited respect for the law" and "could not represent himself as an exemplary character".
Ms Justice Birmingham remarked that it could be said Michalik "did very well because it is a particularly nasty offence".
Ms Perle said Michalik was not involved in a "sustained campaign" against the injured party. However, Mr Justice Birmingham said Michalik's role "can't be that minimal if he was expecting 15 per cent of the expected proceeds".
Ms Perle said Michalik had been in full-time employment and was the sole bread-winner for his family, adding that his partner had just given birth and he was also responsible for her other three children.
Ian Woodland BL, for Stepien, said his client was not seeking to minimise his role in organising the blackmail plot but that it was not a sophisticated one and there had been no prolonged campaign against the injured party.
Mr Woodland said his client had entered an early plea of guilty which hopefully provided the injured party with some comfort.
The barrister said that the trial judge did not nominate a pre-mitigation headline sentence but that if a headline of four years had been nominated for what he described as offending belonging to the medium category, then the three-and-a-half years' imprisonment could be seen as "excessive".
The barrister said Stepien had been suffering with a "serious" addiction to gambling, for which he is seeing a counsellor and had shown remorse for what he had done.
Mr Woodland said Stepien did not deny what he had done, had been "upfront and honest with investigating gardaí", and that there had been no threat or use of violence.
Mr Justice Birmingham said the threat of revealing the images had been "insidious" and that Stepien had "identified a pressure point and applied the pressure".
Mr Cole, for the State, said there was an "air of unreality" to the blackmail being presented as a "foolish escapade" when the offending was "fundamentally serious".
Mr Cole said the nature of the blackmail was "disturbing" and had been "nothing other than a sophisticated plan".
The barrister said the offence had been a "very specific way to target a person in her own life, through her headmaster and her father".
Mr Cole said the injured party had been sent images to make sure she knew the group were aware of where she lived after she had tried to block the blackmailer online.
The barrister said the blackmail plot concerned "a significant amount of money" and that the operation had been a "campaign" that had only been foiled due to "good policing".
In dismissing the appeal, Mr Justice Birmingham said the girl did not widely disclose that she had an OnlyFans account. on which those who paid for access could view her intimate photos.
Mr Justice Birmingham said the girl's effort to restrict access to the account from Irish users was unsuccessful, which resulted in the demand for the €10,000. The judge said she then "sensibly and properly" reported the matter to gardaí, who put together a plan that would lead the three men to believe the money would be paid.
Mr Justice Birmingham said the court agreed with the DPP, who said a "sophisticated plan was researched and then executed". The judge said the plan was structured to have the "maximum intimidating effect" on the girl.
Mr Justice Birmingham added Stepien's offending was on the borderline of the mid-to-high range for offending.
The judge said both men had been placed in the appropriate category for the offence and noted that both men had cannabis possession charges taken into account by the trial judge.
He concluded that both men had previous convictions and the court was "clear in our view that the sentences cannot be unduly severe".
Written by Paul Neilan
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