Autism defense fails, man gets 8 years - The Laconia Daily Sun
By BEA LEWIS, for The Laconia Daily Sun
CONCORD — A Lakes Region man described as a "sexual cyber predator" by a prosecutor, will spend the next eight years in a federal prison.
Moments after U.S. Marshals escorted a handcuffed Ryan Vallee out of a third-floor courtroom in U.S. District Court, his mother approached three of his victims who spoke during the sentencing and tearfully hugged them.
Senior trial attorney Mona Sedky said Vallee, 23, was a "prolific sextortionist" who terrorized teen-aged girls he'd once gone to school with into making pornography for him by hacking into their social media, email and online shopping accounts. He then threatened to delete, deface and make purchases from the accounts, unless the victims sent him sexually explicit photos of themselves.
In August, Vallee pleaded guilty to 13 counts of making interstate threats, nine counts of computer fraud and abuse, eight counts of aggravated identity theft and cyberstalking.
Vallee tormented his victims relentlessly for years. Some he knew from his hometown, some were friends and because they didn't know his identity, others even confided in him about the harassment they were experiencing, Sedky said.
Several of the victims emotionally recounted the terror Vallee inflicted upon them to Judge Paul J. Barbadoro.
Defense attorney Jonathan Saxe said two different experts diagnosed Vallee as being on the autism spectrum and described his client as being emotionally stunted, with limited communication skills.
"This was something he was doing on the computer. He didn't grasp its effect," Saxe said.
Vallee never held a serious job, and has always lived with his mother, according to Saxe, who told the judge the defendant's mother was in the courtroom and was especially distraught, as she knew the victims.
While the judge agreed Vallee's mental health had to be considered, he said in reading the reports and the case file it was more than what he called a "stunning lack of empathy" but a desire to harm. The defendant had to know that the sexually explicit pictures he posted online would be deeply humiliating to his victims.
Saxe countered that Vallee's inability to stop his crimes, even when he was on bail awaiting trial, was proof of his mental health issue, asserting that experts agree that compulsive behaviors common in those with autism, help soothe anxiety.
The prosecutor said the government considered both Vallee's mental health and his age in deciding to ask for a 96-month sentence. Under federal guidelines based on his offenses, Vallee was eligible for a sentence ranging from 87 to 102 months.
"The thing that affected me most was being trapped," said one victim, recounting how she has changed her phone number numerous times and even moved in an effort to regain a sense of safety.
"What I went through, people can't totally understand. The emotional scars will never go away. It's never ending," she tearfully said.
"I was scared in my own house," said another victim, describing how Vallee was able to send her text messages, hack into her email, her Amazon account and even access her credit cards. "I don't know how I'll ever feel comfortable even if he's in jail. I feel like I can't trust anyone."
Another victim spoke of how she had already moved from New Hampshire when the crimes began. What started out as harmless chit chat about books and movies took a dark twist at first desperate and then threatening. She had trouble sleeping and eating and finally had to take time off from her job. When the threats escalated, she confided in her guardians and they went to police in the southern state where she was living.
When she'd told Vallee she was going to police in an effort to get him to stop, he told her that nothing would come of it. His prediction initially proved true. But when Vallee's terror campaign continued, the girl contacted police in her former New Hampshire hometown, which sparked an investigation that identified 12 other victims.
Vallee, who also used the aliases Seth Williams and James McRow, had his bail revoked on March 22, after Secret Service agents discovered he was continuing to victimize other girls while awaiting trial for the same crimes.
While free, Vallee surreptitiously piggybacked onto a neighbor's wifi connection while visiting his sister's condo in Gilford and also used public wireless connections at multiple Lakes Region businesses in an attempt to shield his identity and continue preying on minor girls.
When Secret Service agents pulled up next to Vallee, who was stopped at a traffic light near the entrance to the Gilford Wal-Mart, they flanked his car with guns drawn and ordered him to turn off his vehicle and get out. Instead, he drove off, with a Gilford police cruiser in pursuit and called his mother telling her the police were chasing him. She advised him to stop and he did.
"The extraordinarily damaging effects on the victims, requires this sentence," Judge Barbadoro said. Other aggravated factors he considered were the number of victims, the length of Vallee's criminal conduct, and the efforts the defendant took to conceal his actions. Mitigating factors included the defendant's young age, his lack of any prior criminal record and his mental health. The judge said despite the autism spectrum disorder diagnosis, he felt that Vallee had the functional capabilities of making decisions about right and wrong behavior and that while he may lack empathy, it doesn't excuse what he did.
"His conduct is difficult to comprehend even for a judge," Barbadoro said.
Other conditions of the sentence include that Vallee receive mental health treatment while incarcerated. He is to serve his sentence at the federal correctional institution that allows closest access by his family, and remain on parole for three years following his release.
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