Mississippi man pleads guilty to extorting New Hanover Co. women during phone calls

Mississippi man pleads guilty to extorting New Hanover Co. women during phone calls
Otis Leslie Howell, 55, of Meridian, Miss., pleaded guilty to four counts of extortion and one count of attempted extortion Wednesday in New Hanover County Superior Court. (Source: DA's Office)

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A Mississippi man was sentenced to six months in prison after pleading guilty to extorting women in New Hanover County during phone calls.

Otis Leslie Howell, 55, of Meridian, Miss., entered guilty pleas to four counts of extortion and one count of attempted extortion Wednesday in New Hanover County Superior Court.

According to the District Attorney’s Office, Howell contacted five women in New Hanover and Onslow counties “in the middle of the night by telephone and falsely claimed that he had kidnapped close female family members of the victims and attempted to force the victims to communicate to him as if they were being sexually assaulted.”

A detective with the New Hanover Sheriff’s Office was able to identity Howell as the perpetrator. She also discovered seven additional women across the country who had been similarly contacted by Howell during this time period, according to the DA’s Office.

A background search revealed that Howell had committed similar harassing and threatening calls in Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina between 1986 and 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," said Assistant District Attorney Connie Jordan. "These were traumatic experiences for the women Mr. 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.”

When he is released from prison, Howell will be placed on supervised probation, will have to undergo mental health and substance abuse examinations and comply with all treatment recommendations. He also will have regular searches of all digital devices that can communicate with others, and he has been ordered to have no contact with the witnesses or their families.

He will face a minimum of 52 months and a maximum of 100 additional months in prison if he does not comply.

“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” District Attorney Ben David said.

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