MARQUETTE, MI—Scott Edward Sippola, age 31, and Allison Lenore Coss, age 24, both of Marquette, Michigan, were each sentenced to 48 months in prison as a result of jury verdicts finding them guilty of multiple federal felonies resulting from their attempt to extort $680,000 from the actor John Stamos, U.S. Attorney Donald A. Davis announced today. The defendants' trial was conducted before the Honorable R. Allan Edgar in U.S. District Court in Marquette last July. Judge Edgar also sentenced Scott Edward Sippola to an additional 24 months of federal supervised release after his prison term is complete and a $15,000 fine. Allison Lenore Coss was sentenced to an additional 12 months of supervised release following the completion of her prison term. During sentencing, Judge Edgar noted that the evidence showed that no compromising photos existed.
The extortion scheme began in October 2009, when Coss began sending e-mails to Mr. Stamos in which she claimed that a mysterious person she knew only as "Brian" had come into possession of compromising photos of them. Mr. Stamos had previously met Coss in Orlando, Florida, in April 2004 during a trip to Disney World. She attended a party with Mr. Stamos and several other people. Mr. Stamos developed a friendship with Coss, and the two communicated by e-mail occasionally. Mr. Stamos immediately questioned the legitimacy of Coss's claim because nothing untoward happened at this party. However, Coss claimed that she had seen the photos and had even paid the mysterious "Brian" almost $10,000 to get one. Coss did not send Stamos a copy of the photo she said she had purchased.
Then, in November, Mr. Stamos began receiving e-mails from a person who identified himself as "Brian L." "Brian L" claimed to have compromising photographs of Stamos and Coss from the 2004 party, and threatened to sell the photographs to tabloid magazines unless Mr. Stamos agreed to pay money. "Brian L" told Mr. Stamos that the tabloids were in a bidding war to obtain the supposedly compromising photos and that he had been offered $780,000 for the photos.
In late November and early December, "Brian L" demanded that Mr. Stamos pay $680,000 in cash with unmarked bills. He also expressed concerns about being detected by police, so he tried to identify a clandestine drop location for the money. In the meantime, Mr. Stamos had contacted the FBI for assistance, and an FBI undercover agent had started communicating with "Brian L."
On December 2, 2009, the undercover FBI agent was in contact with "Brian L" in order to arrange a money drop. "Brian L" proposed a location near K.I. Sawyer International Airport and told the agent that he was at the location. At the same time, a surveillance team from the Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team was observing the location. They spotted Coss and Sippola at the scene and took them into custody. Sippola had been on the phone and posing as "Brian L" during the telephone calls with the FBI.
Subsequent searches of the defendants' computers and e-mail accounts revealed that Coss and Sippola had written all of the e-mails from the mysterious "Brian L."
The FBI interviewed reporters from The National Enquirer and The Star Magazine to determine whether an offer had ever been made to buy compromising photos of Mr. Stamos. The reporters confirmed that they had never made an offer and testified at trial that they had never even received compromising photos of Mr. Stamos and would not contemplate making an offer without first seeing photos. Moreover, they said that an offer of $780,000 would be far above the norm.
Throughout the extortion attempt, the defendants refused to send the supposedly damaging photographs to Mr. Stamos or to the undercover FBI agents, despite repeated requests that they prove their existence. No compromising photographs were ever found, despite detailed searches of the defendants' residence, vehicles, computers, and other storage media. At one point, Sippola and Coss claimed to have the compromising photographs in their safe, but a search of that safe revealed only innocuous photographs of Coss with Mr. Stamos.
During the course of the investigation, Mr. Stamos informed the FBI that he had also received suspicious emails from a "Jessica T," who claimed to be pregnant with his child and said she had compromising photos of him. An FBI computer analyst determined that these e-mails were written by Coss and Sippola in September 2009. At trial, Coss admitted that the pair wrote the "Jessica T" e-mails as well, and admitted that the claims made by "Jessica T" were entirely false.
"The FBI is committed to protecting all citizens, no matter who they are, from unscrupulous individuals who would attempt to financially exploit them," said Andrew Arena, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI. "This sentence should act as a deterrent to individuals who would use extortion tactics to make a buck."
Defendants Sippola and Coss were tried by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Maarten Vermaat and Paul D. Lochner, with the assistance of Assistant U.S. Attorney Katie Sample.