Joliet woman pleads guilty to $1.6 million extortion of elderly victim

The Everett McKinley Dirksen U.S. Courthouse is pictured in Chicago Monday as a federal trial of the former Commonwealth Edison lobbyists and one ex-executive continues. (Capitol News Illinois photos by Hannah Meisel)

A Joliet woman pleaded guilty to carrying out an extortion campaign against an elderly man that included threats of murder and resulted in the man paying her a total of $1.6 million.

On May 16, Lee Turner, 40, who also goes by the name “Ashley Turner,” pleaded guilty to using a cellphone to commit theft and intimidation against a 74-year-old man between 2018 and 2021.

Turner faces up to five years in prison. She is scheduled for a sentencing hearing on Sept. 8.

On June 30, 2021, a criminal complaint was filed in federal court against Turner that alleged she carried out an extortion campaign that targeted a 74-year-old victim.

Turner created a “constellation of false personas and fraudulent text messages” to extort the man using threats of assault and murder to the man and his family, threats to expose the man’s alleged involvement in criminal activity and threats to arrest and imprison the man and his family, according to an affidavit signed by FBI Special Agent Timothy O’Brien.

At various points in Turner’s extortion scheme, threats and demands for money were “referenced, invoked or communicated” to the elderly man through text messages, according to O’Brien’s affidavit.

Those text messages were purported to be from gang members, FBI agents, police officers, federal officers, federal prosecutors, Cook County prosecutors and members of the media, according to O’Brien’s affidavit.

The man was told and believed payments were necessary to protect him and his family from “death or bodily harm,” according to O’Brien’s affidavit.

Turner’s “extortionate conduct” caused the man to make about 68 cash payments totaling $1.6 million, which “drastically shrunk” his retirement accounts, savings account and checking account, according to O’Brien’s affidavit.

In an interview with the FBI, the man said he met someone known as “Ashley Turner” in the summer of 2016 while leaving a restaurant in South Holland, according to O’Brien’s affidavit.

The man said he gave Turner about $20 because she said she because she was homeless and needed money for food, his affidavit said. The man also said Turner asked for his phone number but he does recall giving the number to her.

In a plea agreement filed on May 16, Turner “acknowledges that, in total, she received [$1.6 million]” from the elderly victim.