A New Jersey man admitted Wednesday to posing as a high school girl on social media and engaging a teen in an online relationship. He then reported the “kidnapping” of the girl purportedly depicted in the bogus profiles, provoking a police response that stretched from the U.S. to Bulgaria.
Andriy Mykhaylivskyy, 18, of Rutherford, pleaded guilty in Newark federal court to making false statements in a matter within the jurisdiction of the executive branch of the U.S. government.
According to court documents, Mykhaylivskyy used Facebook, Twitter and Skype to create a fake online identity for a teen he called “Kate Fulton.”
In August 2012, he started a relationship, online and through text messages, with an 18-year-old New Jersey high school student, identified in court documents only as “Individual One.” Mykhaylivskyy told investigators during an interview the artifice was meant as "a joke.”
Mykhaylivskyy befriended “Individual One” in real life shortly after creating the fake profile and “repeatedly told stories to [him] to confirm that ‘Kate’ was a real person,” court documents state.
The scheme began to unravel last July, when Mykhaylivskyy called the U.S. Embassy in Chisinau, Moldova to report “Kate Fulton,” purportedly a U.S. citizen, was kidnapped while vacationing in Burgas, Bulgaria.
During the phone call, Mykhaylivskyy said an unknown male had contacted “Kate’s” mother to demand she pay a $50,000 ransom within a week. Mykhaylivskyy asked if the embassy would pay the money for “Kate’s” release.
When the embassy duty officer said no, Mykhaylivskyy asked if he should call back if “Kate” was found or if she “shows up,” court documents state.
Prosecutors said “Individual One” several days later called the U.S. Embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria to ask about “Kate Fulton’s” kidnapping. He provided investigators with screenshots of tweets sent from “Fulton’s” account after her purported kidnapping, including one that read, “Someone help me.”
Mykhaylivskyy eventually admitted to sending those tweets, and to posing as the fictional teen to text “Individual One.”
Unaware of the artifice, the State Department Diplomatic Security Service obtained subscriber and IP address information from Twitter in an attempt to locate “Kate Fulton.”
Bulgarian police were notified and combed hotels, hostels and lodgings in Burgas seeking information about the fictional girl. The Bulgarian border police also conducted searches of incoming passenger records.
State Department agents eventually contacted “Kate Fulton’s” school in New Jersey. Administrators responded that no one with that name had attended but that a picture of “Kate” actually matched photos of another student.
That student had not traveled to Bulgaria and was not kidnapped, officials said.
Law enforcement agents were also able to trace the IP address activity from “Kate Fulton’s” Facebook account to New Jersey and to the Ukraine, which investigators said corresponded with Mykhaylivskyy’s travel schedule at the time.
Though, during Mykhaylivskyy’s initial federal court appearance, he was ordered not to have contact with witnesses, he called “Individual One” twice after arriving at jail later that day.
Mykhaylivskyy admitted he told the teen that “Kate Fulton” had been arrested in California and asked him to delete incriminating Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Mykhaylivskyy faces a maximum possible sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He’s slated to be sentenced June 25.