Ex-energy trader convicted of posting naked images of ex-girlfriend in rare federal stalking case
Updated 4:17 pm, Monday, October 30, 2017
A former energy trader who represented himself in a rare federal online stalking trial was convicted by a Houston jury of sending gruesome and threatening images to an ex-girlfriend, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Following a five-day trial before U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt, the jury found Heriberto Latigo guilty late Friday of intentionally torturing the woman through a series of graphic email and web-based messages and posts. The unusual allegations included the Internet-era notion that Latigo, 44, used the web to cause significant emotional distress, a charge federal prosecutors have been able to prove for less than 100 defendants over 10 years.
The charges were brought under a 1996 anti-stalking law which came under Violence Against Women Act, which makes it a felony to cross state lines to stalk, intimidate or harass someone causing them fear of serious bodily injury or death.
He faces a possible sentence of five years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000 at his sentencing, set for Jan. 8. He remains detained.
Latigo opted to defend himself against the allegations, although he had standby counsel from the Federal Public Defender's Office. He made opening and closing statements and questioned witnesses, including his ex-girlfriend.
Latigo, who had worked oil trader at the Italian oil company ENI, sought to argue at trial that the stalking charges were in retaliation for whistleblower allegations he filed accusing his former girlfriend of being involved in financial fraud at the company. However, prosecutors argued this information had no bearing on the case, and the judge agreed, blocking the parties from mentioning it during the criminal trial.
Evidence at trial laid out the tumultuous relationship between the ex-lovers which began in 2013. The woman testified that Latigo became increasingly controlling as the relationship progressed, pressuring the woman to send him naked images of herself. Later he became physically combative and she claimed he raped her.
She told the jury that when she learned she was pregnant in June 2014, she couldn't bear to move forward. Latigo's conduct was so manipulative and out of control, she testified, that she decided to have an abortion.
She said that in response, Latigo set up a Facebook page entitled "Magdelana Aborted" written from the viewpoint of the aborted fetus. He then sent her a link to the page with the words, "Your abortion video will now be posted you whore."
The online conduct prompted her to try to kill herself by overdosing on tranquilizers.
But the conduct continued. From March 2014 to April 2015, evidence at trial demonstrated how Latigo continued to blackmail and threaten the victim to cede to his will, using a stockpile of images she had sent him of herself.
Witnesses said Latigo used them to get her to agree to sexual demands, explaining he would post the images online unless she did what he said. She contacted Google multiple times to have naked pictures of her removed. The defendant also forwarded the images to the victim's sister, her sister's boss and her male co-workers.
He also set up a Gmail account and a Google+ page using the victims name that featured a naked image of her as the profile pic. The U.S. Attorney noted in a news release that the woman cried on the witness stand when she learned that naked images had been sent in response to a Craigslist ad that she had supposedly created.
A forensic analyst testified that Latigo used multiple Facebook accounts and logged onto the victim's account from his own computer in an attempt to avoid detection.
From his own email address, Latigo also sent messages demeaning the woman and commanding her to comply with sexual acts, according to witnesses.
She told the jury because of Latigo's egregious Internet conduct she moved, changed jobs, closed her Facebook account and stayed offline. But Latigo tracked her down, showed up at her workplace and kept up the behavior.
Another witness testified that Latigo showed up at the victim's daughter's school to stalk her in person.
Latigo argued to the jury that victim brought the case because she wanted to hurt him, but that she had been the one who created the accounts she said he had set up.