HOUSTON (AP) — A Louisiana man was sentenced to a year in prison Monday for running an extortion scheme that authorities believe led a Texas A&M University professor to commit suicide by jumping to his death from a campus parking garage.
Authorities say Daniel Timothy Duplaisir last year lured James Arnt Aune into a sexually explicit online relationship by pretending to be an underage girl. Later, Duplaisir pretended to be the girl's outraged father and demanded money to keep the relationship secret.
Before U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes handed down the sentence, Duplaisir said that he "did a horrible thing ... I will never do anything like this again." In a statement she read before the sentence was handed down, James Aune's wife, Miriam Aune, told the judge that Duplaisir "destroyed so much and paid so little." She said she fought to pursue justice for her husband "as my final tribute to the love of my life." The couple had two adult autistic sons.
Duplaisir, of Metairie, La., pleaded guilty earlier this year to interstate transmission of extortionate communication. He had faced up to two years in prison. Hughes also ordered that Duplaisir pay $1,500 in restitution, the amount he extorted from James Aune.
Duplaisir pretended to be an underage transgender girl named Karen McCall, according to investigators. After corresponding with the 59-year-old Aune as the girl, Duplaisir then contacted the professor, threatening to expose the relationship if Aune didn't pay $5,000 for his daughter's therapy.
According to a criminal complaint, Duplaisir bombarded James Aune with profanity laced emails, texts and voicemails, demanding the money. In a Jan. 7 email, sent a day before Aune's death, Duplaisir warned him that he had until noon the next day to pay or else "the police, your place of employment, students, ALL OVER THE INTERNET ...ALL OF THEM will be able to see your conversations, texts, pictures you sent ...."
Aune paid Duplaisir $1,500, but he didn't know if he could come up with the rest, authorities said. On Jan. 8 at 9:21 a.m., the defendant texted, "3 more hours. If i don't hear from you the calls start," according the criminal complaint.
At 10:29 a.m., Aune replied, "Killing myself now And u will be prosecuted for black mail." He jumped from the parking garage roof about a minute later, shocking the A&M campus, which is about 100 miles northwest of Houston. Aune died later at a hospital.
Aune was regarded as a fine scholar, mentor and friend by students and his fellow professors at Texas A&M, where he headed the school's Department of Communication. Miriam Aune had told The Associated Press that her husband had battled depression in recent years. He was also badly shaken by his 2007 battle with prostate cancer, which he survived but which forced him to face his own mortality, and he began to drink heavily, she said.
Miriam Aune, 57, said after Monday's sentencing that in the months since her husband's death, it has been difficult for her to come to terms with realizing she might not have really known anything about the man she had been married to for 27 years.
"It haunts me," she said.
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