Catfish Bribes Alaska Teen With $9M to Murder Her Friend
- Five Alaska teens have been indicted on a range of charges in connection to the murder of a 19-year-old woman who they allegedly shot and dumped into a river.
- The teens allegedly committed the murder at the request of a 21-year-old Indiana man who posed as a millionaire online and promised to pay $9 million or more for footage of the killing.
- According to authorities, the victim’s “best friend”, who was the fake millionaire’s point of contact, had no idea that the man wasn’t who he said he was until after she was arrested.
- After learning she had been catfished, she ultimately admitted to being solicited by the man to plan and commit the murder.
The Murder of Cynthia Hoffman
Teenagers in Alaska are facing murder charges for allegedly shooting their 19-year-old friend and dumping her body in a river at the request of a fake millionaire who offered money for the footage.
Court documents say that 18-year-old Denali Brehmer invited her “best friend,” Cynthia “CeeCee” Hoffman, on a hike to Thunderbird Falls on June 2. Brehmer’s friend, 16-year-old Kayden McIntosh, joined them along the way. On that hike, McIntosh allegedly helped Brehmer bind Hoffman’s feet, hands, and mouth with duct-tape and then shot her in the back of the head when they reached their destination.
After murdering Hoffman, the teens allegedly dumped her body into the nearby Eklutna River. According to authorities, Brehmer texted Hoffman’s family to say they were dropping their daughter off at a park, but then she and McIntosh allegedly burned Hoffman’s belongings at another location.
“The only thing I know is that my daughter trusted these people,” Hoffman’s father, Timothy Hoffman, said in court on June 10. “My daughter just wanted friends, and now I have to bury her, and that is wrong.”
Mr.Hoffman also told Anchorage Daily News that his daughter was vulnerable because she had a developmental disability that made her operate at a seventh-grade level.“Her disability just made her want to have friends,” he said. “That’s all she wanted, was just to be her friend.”
Authorities say that a 21-year-old Indiana man named Darin Schilmiller convinced the teens to carry out the attack. Brehmer and Schilmiller met online and developed a relationship. He told Brehmer his name was Tyler and provided fake photos, saying he was a millionaire who lived in Kansas. He then allegedly offered her $9 million or more to “rape and murder someone in Alaska” and send him photos and videos of the killing.
“He does not look like the young man he portrayed himself to look like, he is not a millionaire, and he lives in Indiana,” prosecutors wrote in the memorandum. “This practice of assuming a fake identity to engage in online relationships is a practice commonly referred to as ‘catfishing.’
Brehmer then allegedly recruited other friends to help her carry out the attack. Authorities say that along with McIntosh, Brehmer, and Schilmiller, three other suspects have been charged.
Of the other three involved, two are juveniles and one has been identified as 19-year-old Caleb Leyland. Police say the other teens agreed to participate because they believed they would each receive a cut of the payment, though police have not clearly explained what role they may have played in the murder. Leyland told police that he had been promised $500,000 for his role.
Authorities say that Brehmer only learned that “Tyler” wasn’t who he said he was until after her arrest. In fact, when first questioned by police on June 6, Brehmer allegedly claimed that she had gone to Thunderbird Falls with Hoffman and McIntosh to take pictures of each other wrapped in duct tape. She said that she had no idea that McIntosh planned to shoot Hoffman.
“Once Brehmer realized she had been catfished by Schilmiller, she ultimately admitted to being solicited by Schilmiller to commit the murder and that the murder was planned,” prosecutors said.
After searching Brehmer’s cell phone, investigators uncovered sexually explicit photos and text messages between her and the fake millionaire. They also found directions from Schilmiller on how Brehmer should sexually assault a child for his viewing pleasure. Brehmer said that he had directed her to sexually assault two minors, one who was 8 or 9 years old, and another who was 15.
Investigators were unable to find videos of the younger child, however, they did find that she had sent Schilmiller child pornography that featured the 15-year-old victim, according to court documents. Investigators have also not found evidence that Cynthia Hoffman was raped, as Schilmiller had allegedly requested.
Upon his arrest, Schilmiller allegedly admitted that he picked Hoffman as Brehmer’s victim and said they discussed murdering someone else after killing Hoffman, but later abandoned that plan. He also told officials that they had planned the murder for three weeks, and said that Brehmer was in full communication with him during the killing, sending him Snapchat photos and videos. Schilmillet also allegedly admitted he had plans to blackmail Brehmer into raping people after the murder, according to prosecutors.
The six defendants have been charged with a range of murder and conspiracy charges. Schilmiller and Brehmer have also been indicted on first-degree solicitation to commit murder.
On top of those charges, Brehmer and McIntosh were hit with charges for tampering with physical evidence. Schilmiller and Brehmer also face child pornography charges and Schilmiller is currently awaiting extradition to Alaska.
In a June 8 court appearance, Brehmer told the room: “I know what I did was wrong and I know I could have probably done something different if I was able to, and I don’t want my daughter knowing that her mom grew up to be a killer because I don’t see myself as one.”
Brehmer’s half-sister, Rebekah Langdon, told the Daily News that Brehmer had a baby who was put up for adoption.
“All I know is that my daughter didn’t deserve all this. She should have had the friends that she wanted. She shouldn’t have had people that wanted to plot against her,” Hoffman’s father told local station KTUU. “And the ages of these people? I think it is sick. And now they don’t have to live the nightmare that I have to live.”
See what others are saying: (CBS News) (The Washington Post) (Anchorage Daily News)
Survey and Census Data Shows Record Number of Americans are Struggling Financially
Americans are choosing not to pursue medical treatment more and more frequently as they encounter money troubles.
A recent federal survey shows that a record number of Americans were worse off financially in 2022 than a year prior.
Coupled with recent census data showing pervasive poverty across much of the country, Americans are forced to make difficult decisions, like foregoing expensive healthcare.
According to a recent Federal Reserve Bureau survey, 35% of adults say they were worse off in 2022 than 2021, which is the highest share ever recorded since the question was raised in 2014.
Additionally, half of adults reported their budget was majorly affected by rising prices across the country, and that number is even higher among minority communities and parents living with their children.
According to recent census data, more than 10% of the counties in the U.S. are experiencing persistent poverty, meaning the area has had a poverty rate of 20% or higher between 1989 and 2019.
16 states report at least 10% of their population living in persistent poverty. But most of the suffering counties were found in the South — which accounts for over half the people living in persistent poverty, despite making up less than 40% of the population.
These financial realities have placed many Americans in the unfortunate situation of choosing between medical treatment and survival. The Federal Reserve study found that the share of Americans who skipped medical treatment because of the cost has drastically increased since 2020.
The reflection of this can be found in the overall health of households in different income brackets. 75% of households with an income of $25,000 or less report being in good health – compared to the 91% of households with $100,000 or more income.
See what others are saying: (Axios) (The Hill) (Federal Reserve)
Montana Governor Signs TikTok Ban
The ban will likely face legal challenges before it is officially enacted next year.
First Statewide Ban of TikTok
Montana became the first state to ban TikTok on Wednesday after Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed legislation aimed at protecting “Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party.”
The ban will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, though the law will likely face a handful of legal challenges before that date.
Under the law, citizens of the state will not be held liable for using the app, but companies that offer the app on their platforms, like Apple and Google, will face a $10,000 fine per day of violations. TikTok would also be subject to the hefty daily fine.
Questions remain about how tech companies will practically enforce this law. During a hearing earlier this year, a representative from TechNet said that these platforms don’t have the ability to “geofence” apps by state.
Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, told the Associated Press that app stores could have the capability to enforce the restriction, but it would be difficult to carry out and there would be a variety of loopholes by tools like VPNs.
Montana’s law comes as U.S. politicians have taken aim at TikTok over its alleged ties to the CCP. Earlier this year, the White House directed federal agencies to remove TikTok from government devices. Conservatives, in particular, have been increasingly working to restrict the app.
“The Chinese Communist Party using TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private, and sensitive information is well-documented,” Gov. Gianforte said in a Wednesday statement.
Criticism of Montana Law
TikTok, however, has repeatedly denied that it gives user data to the government. The company released a statement claiming Montana’s law “infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people” in the state.
“We want to reassure Montanans that they can continue using TikTok to express themselves, earn a living, and find community as we continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana,” the company said.
The American Civil Liberties Union condemned Montana’s law for similar reasons.
“This law tramples on our free speech rights under the guise of national security and lays the groundwork for excessive government control over the internet,” the ACLU tweeted. “Elected officials do not have the right to selectively censor entire social media apps based on their country of origin.”
Per the AP, there are 200,000 TikTok users in Montana, and another 6,000 businesses use the platform as well. Lawsuits are expected to be filed against the law in the near future.
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Fast Company) (CBS News)
How a Disney-Loving Former Youth Pastor Landed on The FBI’s “Most Wanted” List
“Do what is best, not for yourself, for once. Think about everyone else,” Chris Burns’ 19-year-old son pleaded to his father via The Daily Beast.
Multi-Million Dollar Scheme
Former youth pastor turned financial advisor Chris Burns remains at large since going on the run in September of 2020 to avoid a Securities Exchange Commission investigation into his businesses.
Despite his fugitive status, the Justice Department recently indicted Burns with several more charges on top of the $12 million default judgment he received from the SEC.
Burns allegedly sold false promissory notes to investors across Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida. The SEC claims he told the investors they were participating in a “peer to peer” lending program where businesses that needed capital would borrow money and then repay it with interest as high as 20%. Burns allegedly also reassured investors that the businesses had collateral so the investment was low-risk.
The SEC says that Burns instead took that money for personal use.
Burns began his adult life as a youth pastor back in 2007 before transitioning into financial planning a few years later. By 2017, he launched his own radio show, The Chris Burns Show, which was funded by one of his companies, Dynamic Money – where every week Burns would “unpack how this week’s headlines practically impact your life, wallet, and future,” according to the description. He also frequently appeared on television and online, talking about finances and politics.
The SEC alleges that he used his public appearances to elevate his status as a financial advisor and maximize his reach to investors.
His family told The Daily Beast that he became obsessed with success and he reportedly bought hand-made clothes, a million-dollar lakehouse, a boat, several cars, and took his family on several trips to Disney World. His eldest son and wife said that Burns was paying thousands of dollars a day for VIP tours and once paid for the neighbors to come along.
Then in September 2020, he reportedly told his wife that he was being investigated by the Securities Exchange Commission but he told her not to worry.
The day that he was supposed to turn over his business documents to the SEC, he disappeared, telling his wife he was just going to take a trip to North Carolina to tell his parents about the investigation. Then, the car was found abandoned in a parking lot with several cashier’s checks totaling $78,000
FBI’s Most Wanted
The default judgment in the SEC complaint orders Burns, if he’s ever found, to pay $12 million to his victims, as well as over $650,000 in a civil penalty. Additionally, a federal criminal complaint charged him with mail fraud. Burns is currently on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
Last week, the Justice Department indicted him on several other charges including 10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of mail fraud.
“Burns is charged for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from clients in an illegal investment fraud scheme,” Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta, said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “Financial crimes of this nature can cause significant disruptions to the lives of those who are victimized, and the FBI is dedicated to holding these criminals accountable.”
His family maintains that they knew nothing of Burns’ schemes. His wife reportedly returned over $300,000 that he had given to her.
She and their eldest son, who is now 19, told The Daily Beast they just want Burns to turn himself in, take responsibility for his actions, and try to help the people he hurt.
“Do what is best, not for yourself, for once. Think about everyone else,” Burns’ son said in a message to his father via The Daily Beast.