They thought they had found the man of their dreams in an Internet chat room, someone who would love them forever and tend to their every need. But Harry A. Ginyard wasn't looking for romance, prosecutors said. He was out to get money, and now he has admitted conning at least 14 women out of a total of $63,000.
Wearing a red prison jumpsuit, the sullen 60-year-old Ginyard looked anything but a heartthrob as he stood before U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler in Washington yesterday. She gave him a two-year sentence, ordered him to make restitution and barred him from returning to the chat rooms once he gets out of prison.
Prosecutors said the outcome should ease the anguish of the victims, many of whom thought they were going to marry Ginyard. They said Ginyard kept meticulous records to help him remember details about the many women he was chatting with, so that he could convince each woman that he was hers alone.
"No matter what the problem, Ginyard was endlessly understanding, sympathetic and supportive," Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri L. Schornstein stated in court documents outlining the case. "It is little wonder that each of the victims grew extremely emotionally dependent upon him."
Ginyard used the same alias, Brett Scott, but gave different stories about his background and occupation, Schornstein said. Some women thought he was a business consultant, some thought he was a lobbyist, and some thought he worked for the U.S. Marshals Service's witness protection program. As the conversations became more and more intimate, they eventually came around to the same basic point: "Brett Scott" had a sudden need to borrow lots of money.
"Ginyard played on all my weaknesses with the sole intent of taking advantage of me," one woman stated in a letter to the judge. "When I discovered that his real name was Harry Ginyard, the hair stood on the back of my neck, and I realized that I was in serious trouble. . . . I felt personally violated."
Two women gave Ginyard so much money that they went into bankruptcy, authorities said. Others suffered emotional problems when they finally determined that the relationships weren't going anywhere. Three victims took their stories to television, appearing on "Inside Edition"; one also wrote to her representative in Congress, and that led to the FBI taking on the case.
In a court affidavit, FBI agent Melissa Morrow said Ginyard contacted the women from 1991 to 1997 on an adult Internet site tailored for people interested in domination or submission. She said many of the women were lonely, troubled or even suicidal before they got involved with him. Besides providing Ginyard with steady money, many of the women sent him photographs or videotapes of themselves in sexually explicit poses. Prosecutors got Kessler's permission yesterday to destroy the embarrassing evidence.
Ginyard, of Northwest Washington, said little at his sentencing yesterday. When he pleaded guilty in May, he told the judge his conscience was bothering him. He pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one child pornography charge. Authorities said they found sexually explicit photographs of minors when they examined his computer after his arrest in December.
Asked how Ginyard expected to repay the money, defense lawyer David Howard said Ginyard expected to find work in the real estate business upon his release.
Law enforcement specialists said that hundreds of scams have been uncovered on the Internet. Ginyard, they said, is an example of a con artist often referred to as the "Sweetheart Swindler," someone who cons his way into the hearts and wallets of victims.
Louis R. Mizell Jr., a security consultant who tracks fraud and other crimes, said that chat rooms can provide wider audiences for criminals. Ginyard's victims, for example, came from five states and Germany.
"This is a way they can meet more victims faster," Mizell said. "They have a larger pool of victims to select from."