Navy captain convicted for ex-girlfriend cyberstalking and ID theft

by Vern Evans

A former Navy ship captain was convicted last week of cyberstalking and stealing his ex-girlfriend’s identity to create explicit online content, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

During a four-day federal trial in San Diego, prosecutors presented evidence that Capt. Theodore E. Essenfeld, 52, created fake Facebook, LinkedIn, email and cell phone accounts using the woman’s name, photographs and personal information without her consent or knowledge.

“Posing as the victim, Essenfeld posted erotic and sexually explicit content to the Facebook account, as well as graphic media files,” the Justice Department said in a statement announcing the June 14 conviction.

Prosecutors presented evidence showing that Essenfeld joined Facebook dating groups using the bogus account and interacted with other users while pretending to be the woman.

The captain also followed and engaged with social media accounts belonging to the woman’s prospective employers, according to the feds.

More than 1,200 Facebook users became friends with the fake account, including the woman’s former colleagues.

The victim reported this imposter account to Facebook more than 400 times, but the company refused to take the account down “because it appeared more authentic than the victim’s actual account due to the volume of images and level of Essenfeld’s engagement on the platform,” the Justice Department said.

Essenfeld and the woman began dating in 2018 and broke up in 2021, according to his 2023 indictment.

The prior-enlisted surface warfare officer was assigned to Expeditionary Strike Group 3 at the time of his indictment in 2023, and previously commanded the dock landing ship Pearl Harbor from 2015 to 2018.

Essenfeld is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 6.

He faces up to 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of cyberstalking by an active-duty servicemember, call the Department of Defense Hotline at 800-4240-9098.

Geoff is the editor of Navy Times, but he still loves writing stories. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at [email protected].

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