NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — Otis Leslie Howell, 55, of Meridian, Mississippi, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to four counts of extortion and one count of attempted extortion in New Hanover County Superior Court.
According to the District Attorney’s office, Howell called five women in New Hanover and Onslow counties in the middle of the night, falsely claimed that he had kidnapped close female family members, and attempted to force the victims to communicate to him as if they were being sexually assaulted.
Through an “exhaustive investigation,” the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office was able to identify Howell as the perpetrator, and discovered seven additional women who had been similarly contacted by Howell.
A background search revealed that Howell has a documented criminal history of committing similar harassing and threatening types of offenses by telephone in Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina since 1986 and up until 2017.
“The victims were frantically calling their female family members in the middle of the night attempting to confirm their mothers, sisters, and daughters were safe,” Assistant DA Connie Jordan said. “These were traumatic experiences for the women Howell contacted. One of the victims had given birth to a child five days prior, and the defendant’s actions were extremely distressing. While this is not a common fact pattern for most extortion charges in my experience as an assistant district attorney, the defendant’s criminal behavior clearly meets the elements of this crime.”
“The defendant had victims from around the country. The road ended for him in our jurisdiction because of the bravery of the women who came forward and the exceptional work of the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office. This is a precedent-setting case and I am proud of the members of my office who worked in tandem with these victims and investigators to bring this predator to justice” DA Ben David said.
Howell was sentenced to six months in prison. When released, he will be placed on supervised probation, will have to undergo mental health and substance abuse examinations and comply with all treatment recommendations, he will have regular searches of all digital devices that can communicate with others in an attempt to ensure he does not continue to victimize, and he is ordered to have no contact with the witnesses or their families. If Howell does not comply with his conditions of probation, he will face serving a minimum of 52 and a maximum of 100 additional months in prison.