Police: Man convicted in sextortion case has been questioned before

SEEKONK, Mass. (WPRI) – Police in Seekonk say a local man just convicted in a federal sextortion case has appeared on the law enforcement radar screen in the past.

David Ackell, 48, was found guilty of one count of interstate stalking by a jury at federal court in Concord, NH on Friday.

Target 12 requested any incident reports from the Seekonk Police Department that involved Ackell. In a response to the record request, Chief Craig Mace confirmed they have had two cases naming Ackell in the last six years, one is still active.

According to the 2010 police report, Ackell was questioned after a man from Canada said he discovered his teenage daughter had an online relationship with Ackell and was missing – he said he feared she had run away and was headed to see Ackell.

“It was unclear if the two have engaged in an inappropriate relationship,” the report states.

When Ackell was approached by a Seekonk officer, he confirmed he had interacted with the girl, but claimed she told him he was in college and was 18 years of age. The girl was in high school and had just turned 17, according to police.

Ackell – a commercial airline pilot – said during one of his “daily runs” to Toronto, he met with the girl “at a hotel in Toronto, Canada at a speech convention.”

According to the report, the father called Seekonk Police back roughly eight hours later to say his daughter had returned home.

Mace said they also opened a 2015 investigation but declined to provide any details because the case is still active.

“As the investigation is ongoing and I believe the release of information may otherwise jeopardize the ongoing investigation,” he wrote in a letter to Target 12.

In the New Hampshire case, Ackell was accused of threatening to send explicit photos of a teenage girl to her family and friends if she didn’t do what he wanted. The victim – who was 16 when she first made contact with Ackell – was from New Hampshire.

Chief Mace issued a press release over the weekend saying “we hope the conviction will provide the victims with some semblance of closure and a starting point for healing.”

Ackell’s attorney Williams Christie, of Concord, N.H., said the judge still has to rule on a motion to dismiss the case but they will appeal the verdict if they that doesn’t happen.

Christie said they are challenging the federal stalking statute on the grounds that it violates a person’s First Amendment Rights to free speech. He said the anti-stalking law – which was changed in 2013 to include sextortion – has never been challenged in appellate court.

“It’s overly broad,” he said.

Christie also denies his client ever threatened to release explicit pictures of the New Hampshire teen.

“As I argued at trial, beyond [the victim’s] testimony there is no evidence to support the allegations,” said Christie.

Court filings show prosecutors used screen grabs of text messages and conversations between Ackell and the victim through an application called “Kik” as evidence.

Christie said he is not representing Ackell in any other pending case.

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin filed a bill this year that would have criminalized sextortion in the Ocean State.

“The state law as it presently stands is rather weak,” Kilmartin said. “If we updated our statutes the way we want to include sextortion through the internet, we would have a specific statute on-point which would make the prosecution of these case much easier.”

The bill passed both the house and senate, but was vetoed by Gov. Gina Raimondo when some groups raised concerns that it could infringe on First Amendment rights. Kilmartin said they have researched the bill and found 35 other states have a version of the law on the books.

“We are planning on reintroducing the bill in its present form having vetted it thoroughly,” Kilmartin said. “We’re confident we are on constitutional ground.”

He said they will work with the legislature if they plan on changing the language of the bill to address concerns that were raised in the last session.

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook