The love ritual began with candles, alcohol, vegetables and photographs, all carefully arranged. Then clients were told to send photos and videos of themselves reciting graphic statements and performing sex acts to a Paraguayan business specializing in witchcraft to finish the magic spell aimed at finding a soul mate.
That’s when a self-described sorcerer started another familiar rite: extortion.
Ariel Boiteux, an Argentine national who was the mastermind of an international scheme that entangled an estimated 200 victims in at least 12 countries, threatened to post the photos and videos of the intimate acts unless his clients paid “large sums of money,” according to authorities, sometimes demanding six-figure payoffs. Boiteux, 31, and associates with his company, Amarres Inmediatos, even posted some explicit content to websites, Facebook and Instagram and forced clients to pay to take down the posts.
But as the alleged warlock of witchcraft extortion learned this week, there were no tricks in his bag of distorted magic that could get him out prison.
The U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of California announced Monday that Boiteux was sentenced to two years in federal prison for the crime of foreign transmission of an extortionate threat. He pleaded guilty in December after being extradited from Paraguay to San Diego last July, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“This was a despicable scheme that preyed upon people who put their trust in a phony,” U.S. Attorney Robert S. Brewer Jr. said in a news release on Monday. “This defendant used the vulnerability of the lovelorn to humiliate and extort them, and for that he will pay a price.”
Authorities in Paraguay said the estimated 200 victims hailed from the United States, Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Italy, Mexico, Peru, Spain and Switzerland, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
Not too long ago, the witchcraft extortion business was humming along for Boiteux, who had set Amarres Inmediatos’s website in 2015. The computer expert tapped into the Latin American culture of witches or spiritual guides offering to cast spells for “amarres de amor,” or “moorings of love.” He advertised his brujería services on Facebook, Instagram and MercadoLibre, an Argentina-based online marketplace similar to Craigslist, according to the plea agreement.
As the Union-Tribune first reported last year, Boiteux soon realized the potential to control his clients through threats of public humiliation. And he could do it all remotely.
In February 2017, Boiteux discovered that a female client whose recordings he obtained from the faux ritual was “a well-connected public figure with access to significant financial resources,” according to the plea agreement. Boiteux’s associates had already convinced her to wire $7,200 through Western Union, the Times reported, but they wanted more. So Boiteux and his associates threatened to publicize the sensitive content unless she paid more than $250,000, authorities said.
That same month, Boiteux sent a WhatsApp message to another victim, threatening to post recordings on YouTube, according to the federal indictment. One month later, the computer expert sent a YouTube link to yet another victim and claimed a video from their ritual had already been uploaded. According to the indictment, Amarres Inmediatos also threatened to sell the more sexual content of some victims to tabloids or porn distributors.
Boiteux’s scheme started to unravel later in the year. In October 2017, an undercover agent from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement called a phone number listed on the company’s website. The agent offered to purchase the recordings of a victim, whose ritual had been partially uploaded to websites in another extortion attempt.
Once Boiteux agreed to sell, he instructed the U.S. official to make a Western Union transfer. By the time the agent wired $800 from San Diego to a Western Union in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, local authorities were waiting. When Boiteux arrived at the pickup spot he had used before, he was arrested by Paraguayan police.
It remains unclear whether the victim, whose name was not released, has any ties to San Diego.
In addition to Boiteux, three others were arrested in the scheme, including his 15-year-old brother, the Union-Tribune reported.
“I commend the dedicated work by our cybercrime experts who worked diligently to bring Boiteux, who dangerously preyed on others for his own financial gain, to justice,” David Shaw, special agent in charge for homeland security investigations in San Diego, said in the Monday news release.
Boiteux’s extradition to San Diego was not without drama. According to the Argentine news outlet TN.com, he tied his mouth shut with wire as part of a hunger strike before his transfer to the United States. When a judge asked him to confirm his identity during his first court appearance last year, Boiteux, in a wheelchair, offered a bizarre answer involving angels, the Times reported. After a mental competence exam found he was fit to move forward with the case, he pleaded guilty to one count of extortion, according to the Union-Tribune.
Authorities said Boiteux is being credited for time served both in South America and in federal custody in the United States, meaning he will be released in July. They added he would be sent back to Argentina upon release this summer.
Sitting in a wheelchair in a federal courtroom on Monday, Boiteux only had a few words to say to U.S. District Judge Marilyn L. Huff, the Union-Tribune reported.
“I’m very remorseful, ma’am,” he said.
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