Democracy Dies in Darkness

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U.S. House member still feels ‘exposed, stripped’ by ex-aides’ cyberstalking crimes

March 8, 2018 at 1:35 PM

Del. Stacey Plaskett, D-Virgin Islands (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

An elected representative to Congress and her husband have spoken out in federal court filings against two ex-aides who pleaded guilty to circulating the couple’s nude images and video in an attempt to block her 2016 reelection.

Virgin Islands Del. Stacey Plaskett (D) said she remains “angry and bewildered” and still feels “exposed, stripped in some way” as her one-time legal counsel, Juan R. McCullum, 36, of Washington, was sentenced Thursday afternoon. Plaskett and her husband were in court but did not speak.

Under a plea deal McCullum received one year and 361 days in federal prison, suspended except for one year and one day on conspiracy and cyberstalking charges.

“Every day I am reminded of what happened to me, what happened to my family — when our family’s privacy was invaded, pillaged ...” by McCullum and his co-defendant, Dorene Browne-Louis, Plaskett told the court in a sentencing letter.

But Plaskett added, “Jonathan and I are even closer than before, we’ve been through a battle that we didn’t even ask for and came out as winners.”

Juan McCullum of Pearl, shown in a 2003 file photo when he was a Mississippi State student body vice president. (Joe Ellis/The Clarion Ledger, via AP)

Plaskett last year confirmed she and her husband, Jonathan Buckney-Small, were the parties identified in court filings by federal prosecutors in Washington as “S.P.” and ‘J.B.S.”, whose privacy was invaded in an organized smear campaign against her and their family.

Related: [Two ex-staffers plead guilty in release of explicit images of U.S. House member, husband]

McCullum pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor counts of conspiracy, attempted publication of a sexual image and criminal access to protected computers on Jan. 23 along with former Plaskett scheduler Browne-Louis, 45, of Upper Marlboro, Md., who admitted to misdemeanors of conspiracy and being an accessory after the fact. Browne-Louis faces sentencing April 23 before the same judge, U.S. District John D. Bates of Washington.

McCullum attorney Danny C. Onorato said in a court filing that “his reckless conduct not only ruined his career, but it also had regrettable consequences to the complaining witnesses in this case,” adding, “He deeply regrets the embarrassment that it caused the Congresswoman and her family and has entered this plea agreement to atone for his conduct.”

McCullum admitted to offering to help Plaskett by taking her malfunctioning, password-protected iPhone in March 2016 to a local Apple store for repairs.

In July 2016, after McCullum left the member’s staff, he told Browne-Louis he had copied without consent private, nude images and video of the delegate’s family that were on the phone, both defendants admitted.

Some of the personal photographs surfaced on the Internet in July 2016 shortly before a primary election.

McCullum worked for Plaskett from April 2015 until June 2016 and Browne-Louis from January 2015 until April 2016.

In her statement to the court, Plaskett said McCullum wanted “titles he didn’t earn,” she wrote adding, “I represent a neglected people, who need a lot and I wasn’t having an office that was all flash and no substance ... That’s what Juan was about.”

Plaskett said she was “grateful for all the people at home who rallied around me” including women in the Virgin Islands “who saw it for what it was. Bringing a black woman down.”

Related: [Two former staffers charged in cyberstalking of U.S. House member, husband]

Plaskett wrote of particular fury that an image was posted of the couple’s then toddler-aged daughter from a playful family video. “They attempted to mark a relationship she has with her father that is precious, and loving,” she wrote. “For that reason, I want to physically destroy the two of them.”

Buckney-Small, Plaskett’s husband, directly addressed McCullum in his statement to the court, writing, “you, sir, tried to insinuate me of being morally inept with my child, and now I must look you in the eye and say, how dare you? Who do you think you are?”

While Plaskett said the defendants hoped to turn people against her, constituents told her, “Girl, hold our head up. That’s between you and your husband. That’s your private business!” Plaskett said.

In 2015, McCullum was cited in an annual list of the “50 Most Beautiful” by the Hill newspaper, which said he had been a former reality TV star known as “Pretty” on VH1’s “I Love New York.”

Plaskett, 51, a former New York City prosecutor and Justice Department official, was overwhelmingly reelected to her second term in 2016.

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Spencer S. Hsu is an investigative reporter, two-time Pulitzer finalist and national Emmy Award nominee. Hsu has covered homeland security, immigration, Virginia politics and Congress.

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