Joshua Duclos of Florence convicted of hacking email account of photographer to solicit nude pictures of women



Last modified: Wednesday, May 13, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — Photographer Megan E. LaBonte of Northampton said she was shocked to find out last September that someone had hacked her email account and her account on a modeling website to send messages to other women soliciting nude photographs.

The messages claimed that she wanted to do a paid photo shoot with the women, but needed to see some nude photos first. Several women sent the photos.

“I thought it was some random creepy Internet person,” LaBonte, 37, said in a telephone interview Monday. “I didn’t know it was someone I knew at that point.”

But a few days later, a friend and former co-worker from Sylvester’s Restaurant contacted her after receiving a suspicious message looking for photographs. The email made it clear that whoever was pretending to be LaBonte knew that both women had worked at Sylvester’s Restaurant on Pleasant Street.

“That was awful, that length of time when I didn’t know. I became really paranoid,” she said. When police gave her a name a month later, LaBonte said she was upset, but also a little relieved that the mystery was solved.

Police told her that they had tracked the IP address used by the emails’ sender to 53 Hinckley St. in Florence, where Joshua R. Duclos lived. LaBonte recognized the name — he had been a dishwasher at Sylvester’s when she worked there. She said he was quiet and she never got any “bad vibes” from him at the time, although she told police he sent her a few Facebook messages in 2013 about her photography and telling her she was “drop-dead gorgeous.”

“It’s disgusting. I don’t know how many women he contacted. Seven came forward,” she said.

LaBonte was in court Monday to watch Duclos, 24, admit to sufficient facts for a guilty finding on charges of identity fraud and two counts of unauthorized use of a computer system. Judge W. Michael Goggins found him guilty, sentenced him to a year of probation and ordered him to undergo mental health and sex offender evaluations and write letters of apologies to his victims.

According to court records, Duclos admitted to the crime when police arrived at his home Nov. 14 with a warrant to search and seize his electronic devices. He told police that he had hacked LaBonte’s email account two years ago by guessing her security question and resetting her password. He downloaded several nude photographs of her from the account, and also used it to reset the password for her account on ModelMayhem.com, a networking website for models and photographers.

LaBonte quickly reset the password on her email account, but Duclos set up two new accounts posing as LaBonte, according to court records.

In emails and ModelMayhem messages, he contacted women and told them they would be great for a nude modeling job that would pay $100 an hour, and they just had to send some nude shots back “for assessment purposes.” According to court records, Duclos also sent nude photos of LaBonte to the women, saying it was to make them feel “more comfortable” sending photos back, and as examples of the kind of photographs that would be taken for the job.

When police interviewed Duclos at his home Nov. 14, he said he “just wanted to see some girls naked,” according to court records. He told police he had stopped “because he knew it was wrong,” and a forensic examination of his computer supported that statement, according to court records.

Police also seized six smoke-grenade canisters from his room and turned them over the State Fire and Explosion Investigation Unit, according to court records.

LaBonte notified police about the fraud Sept. 18. While she was working a shift at Sam’s Pizzeria and Cafe on Main Street, a woman she did not know came in and said she was excited about their upcoming photo shoot, she said. LaBonte told the woman she did not send any of the messages the woman described.

LaBonte logged into her ModelMayhem account, which she had not used in months, and found that someone had sent about a dozen messages to women seeking nude photographs. She immediately had the account deleted, she said.

Seven women have confirmed that they received messages from Duclos, LaBonte said, and court records said that at least three women sent him the nude photographs he asked for. Police noted in court documents that their investigation revealed Duclos sent 38 messages to 19 people with the two phony email accounts.

“It’s been a long, painful process,” LaBonte said of the court case. “I’m glad to have closure.”

LaBonte said she does not believe the fraudulent messages have tarnished her reputation as an amateur photographer and model in the Pioneer Valley, but she admitted it’s hard to say for sure because she does not know how many people Duclos contacted.

She said she has done sculpture and dioramas in the past, and started trying her hand at photography a few years ago. “The work I do with women is about holding up a mirror and making them feel beautiful and strong,” LaBonte said. “And then this person comes along and tries to twist that.”

LaBonte added that she learned a lot about Internet security and the law as a result of the case. Some websites suggest security questions that could be guessed by someone who knew the account holder — like place of birth or high school mascot.

LaBonte said she never imagined someone she knew would be trying to guess her security question to access her email account. Looking back, she acknowledged that she should have chosen a more private security question.

The question she chose was “Who is your favorite artist?” and anyone who is familiar with her knows it is Frida Kahlo. She has done several art projects paying homage to the artist, and anyone who follows her Facebook page would have been able to guess it, LaBonte said. “That was a huge lesson for me,” she added.

She also found out that “laws and the Internet are moving at two different speeds,” she said, because scammers and hackers are always finding new ways to steal people’s identities for nefarious purposes, and it can be hard to fit the new crimes into the definitions contained in old laws.

“I think people get away with this a lot,” she said. At first, LaBonte said, it seemed as though authorities were not certain they would be able to win the case in court because of the complexities of Internet crime.

LaBonte said she is grateful that Northampton Police Detective Corey Robinson and the Northwestern district attorney’s office saw the case through to a conviction.

“I am so glad I pursued this not just for myself, but the other women who were involved too,” LaBonte said.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.


 


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