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Dad denies using daughter in child-porn extortion plot after professor's suicide

FBI agents say a blackmail scheme concocted by another man who used photos of an underage girl in a catfish scam may have caused a Texas A&M professor to commit suicide. KPRC's Irika Sargent reports.

HOUSTON -- A Louisiana man denied on Tuesday that he used his daughter to lure a college professor into a sexually explicit online relationship and then blackmailed him.

The professor, James Arnt Aune, of Texas A&M University, jumped to his death from the roof of a campus parking garage in January after paying part of an alleged demand for $5,000, sending a text to the man saying "Killing myself now. And u will be prosecuted for black mail."

Authorities allege that Aune, 59, was one of many victims of the same scam by the man. The Associated Press isn't naming him to protect the identity of his daughter.

Aune, who headed the school's Department of Communication, battled depression in recent years. He struggled with the administrative duties of being a department head, and he was badly shaken by his 2007 battle with prostate cancer, his widow said. "He never really came all the way back," Miriam Aune said of his surviving cancer.

He began drinking heavily, and in December he started a sexually explicit online relationship with what he thought was an underage girl, according to prosecutors. He was soon contacted by a man purporting to be her outraged father, who threatened to expose Aune unless he paid him $5,000.

Aune paid the man $1,500, but he didn't know if he could come up with the rest, authorities say.

The alleged blackmailer pleaded not guilty Tuesday in a Houston federal courtroom to an extortion charge.

The 37-year-old Metairie, La., resident was ordered to remain in jail without bail, and his trial is scheduled for May 28. If convicted, he faces up to two years in jail.

'A weak moment'
In the criminal complaint, prosecutors contend that the man's daughter told authorities in Louisiana in 2011 that her father took naked photos and videos of her and used them "to scam men" through MocoSpace, a social networking website mainly for mobile devices. On the site, "she would meet men, get their phone numbers and send them pictures and videos then (her father) would call them and say how she was his daughter and how she would need counseling and they had to pay for it."

At the time of that 2011 interview, her father was facing two counts of oral sexual battery and two counts of aggravated incest. The charges were dropped in February 2012 due to a lack of corroborating evidence, said Rachael Domiano, a spokeswoman for the 21st Judicial District Attorney's Office in Louisiana.

It wasn't clear from the criminal complaint if prosecutors believe the defendant's daughter actually interacted with Aune, or if her image was used to allegedly dupe him.

Miriam Aune, 56, told The Associated Press that investigators told her that the defendant communicated with her husband and other men, pretending to be his daughter.

She said her husband told her he began the online chats sometime in December and the defendant then asked for money.

According to court records, undated texts show Aune scrambling to put money on prepaid credit cards and asking for his forgiveness, saying "I am very sorry. It was a weak moment."

A week before his suicide, James Aune confessed to his wife. Miriam Aune said her husband never told her why he did it.

"I was just telling him there was nothing that we couldn't get through. We have two autistic children we have raised to adulthood. We've been through rough stuff. I thought we could get through this," Miriam Aune said.

According to a criminal complaint, the defendant continued bombarding Aune with profanity laced emails, texts and voicemails, including a Jan. 7 email in which he warned Aune that he had until noon the next day to pay or else "the police, your place of employment, students, ALL OVER THE INTERNET ...ALL OF THEM will be able to see your conversations, texts, pictures you sent ...."

On Jan. 8 at 9:21 a.m., the defendant texted, "3 more hours. If i don't hear from you the calls start," according the criminal complaint by FBI agent Nikki Allen. Just over an hour later, Aune replied with the text to say he was taking his own life.

Miriam Aune doesn't excuse her husband's actions. She said it was his decision to go online and begin the conversations.

"It just shows you anybody can slip off the path. I know a lot of people are very surprised by this. He was very human with flaws, just like all of us," she said.