YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A Rutherford man from the Ukraine admitted in federal court today that created a cyber high school girl to establish a relationship with a New Jersey boy and then used him to help falsely report her kidnapping, prompting a massive search in Bulgaria
Andriy Mykhaylivskyy told a federal judge in Newark that he staged a “catfishing” scam in which he created a “Kate Brianna Fulton” using a photograph of another young woman, then brought her to virtual life through Facebook, Twitter, texting, and Skype.
Through the fake identity, he contacted the then-18-year-old victim, authorities said.
On July 2, 2013, the government said, Mykhaylivskyy called the U.S. Embassy in Chisinau, Moldova, and claimed that Fulton had been kidnapped while vacationing in Burgas, Bulgaria. He told the teen the same thing, authorities said.
Six days later, the victim called the U.S. Embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria, asking for help finding her.
The 5-foot-9-inch Mykhaylivskyy — a Ukrainian immigrant who called himself “Andriy Haddad” — professed to be an actor but listed his occupation online as a guard at the Secaucus Ice Rink.
He says in his online bio that he was “born and raised in Lviv, Ukraine” but at 5 years old moved to Jersey City from San Diego. He also claims he began acting when he was 10, and that his name “has been all over the [I]nternet” after appearances on reality shows in the Ukraine.
Mykhaylivskyy also pleaded guilty during today’s hearing to a count of obstruction of justice: The night of his arrest, on Aug. 27 of last year, he said he twice called the teen from the Essex County Jail and told him that Fulton had been arrested, despite being ordered by a judge earlier that day not to have any contact with him.
Mykhaylivskyy arranged to meet with the teen and asked him to delete both his own and Fulton’s personal Facebook and Twitter accounts, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman later said. As a result, a judge ordered that he remain in custody until a competency hearing could be held.
Mykhaylivskyy was released on bail following the Nov. 19 hearing, “with a third party custodian and conditions which again included that Mykhaylivskyy not tamper with or retaliate against any witness,” Fishman said in a complaint on file in U.S. District Court in Newark.
On Dec. 13, Fishman wrote, Mykhaylivskyy “entered a retail store in a mall where [the witness] is employed,” then “made eye contact” and walked to the back of the store. The witness went to the stockroom and stayed there until he was gone, the court petition says.
Although investigators didn’t suggest a possible motive in the alleged hoax, they noted that Mykhaylivksy claimed the purported kidnappers wanted a $50,000 ransom payment.
When he called the U.S. Embassy in Moldova, they said, he identified himself as “Andrei Aylivsk,” claiming that Fulton, his girlfriend, was kidnapped in Bulgaria four days earlier.
Kate’s mother, “Sylvia Fulton,” was “contacted by an unknown male who told her that her daughter had been kidnapped and that she had one week to pay $50,000 in ransom,” federal agents said Mykhaylivskyy told them.
They said he also provided the phone number that “Sylvia” had been given to arrange for the ransom payment, and said he’d called because she asked him to.
He said she’d contacted other embassies, although authorities found no record of that, according to a U.S. Department of State complaint obtained by CLIFFVIEW PILOT .
Mykhaylivskyy also asked whether the embassy could pay the $50,000 ransom and was told that wasn’t possible, the complaint says.
Giving them phone numbers where he and “Sylvia” could be contacted, Mykhaylivskyy said he was in the Ukraine but headed to the U.S., it says.
On July 8, the U.S. Embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria, got a similar call – this time from the New Jersey teen, who the government said believed that “Kate” was in trouble.
He provided the same date as Mykhaylivskyy, saying that she “had boarded a shuttle for her hotel but instead had been kidnapped.”
The New Jersey teen told federal agents that he was contacted by “Kate” in late August 2012. He said they “entered into an online and texting relationship” but that she cancelled whenever he made plans to meet her.
He provided the Embassy’s Regional Security Officer with a screenshot of “Kate’s” Twitter account showing two tweets dated June 29, 2013. The screenshot shows the name “Kate Brianna Fulton” and Twitter account “@BriannaFulton.”
One tweet reads, “916-55-119,” and the other, “Someone help me.”
According to the teen, the “916-55-119″ tweet referred to “Kate’s” local cellular phone while she was in Bulgaria. Agents determined it wasn’t a valid number, however.
DSS agents then obtained subscriber information and up-to-date IP address information from Twitter.
Bulgarian police were notified and “responded by combing hotels, hostels and other lodgings in Burgas seeking information on the alleged victim,” the federal complaint says. “The Bulgarian border police also conducted searches of incoming passenger records.”
The DSS, meanwhile, contacted the school in New Jersey that “Kate Fulton” purportedly attended. Administrators quickly found the girl whose image they said Mykhaylivskyy used.
DSS agents interviewed the girl, who said she wasn’t friends with either Mykhaylivskyy or the other man outside of Facebook.
She also told them her Facebook profile and Twitter feed weren’t protected – meaning anyone could access her profile and photos.
The activity for the IP address from the Facebook account that they said Mykhaylivskyy created showed a gap of eight days when he was away, according to the complaint.
When he arrived at JFK Airport last August, the complaint says, Mykhaylivskyy was questioned by DSS agents and admitted the hoax, while claiming that he began the relationship with the New Jersey teen as a “joke.”
His own Twitter account shows Mykhaylivskyy traveling the country, with posts from Phoenix and various cities in California. Immediately after being questioned, he says he tried but failed to get a one-way ticket to the Ukraine.
“Last time I’m ever gonna be nice to you,” was his last tweet.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Mykhaylivskyy is looking at up five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.
Fishman credited the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Office of Protective Intelligence Investigations and agents assigned to the DSS New York Field Office for their assistance in the investigation. He also thanked members of the N.J. Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Handling the case for the government is Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara F. Merin of Fishman’s General Crimes Unit in Newark.