Under orders from a judge, a Miami reality TV star facing trial in an extortion case involving sex videos provided her iPhone password to police.
It didn’t work. Now, a Miami-Dade judge has ordered Hencha Voit, and her boyfriend, to take the stand at another hearing to explain why they can’t unlock their phones for police.
The hearing on Wednesday employed some high-tech security to test the code. Miami Beach Detective Rick Arias wheeled in a large heavy-duty gray box specially designed to shield electronic devices from cell signals — lest a tech-savvy intruder try to wipe the memory remotely, using Apple’s cloud services.
In the courtroom hallway, the cyber-crimes detective lifted the “Faraday” box atop a bench. Carefully, he opened the lid and placed the iPhone inside. Latching it up, Arias slipped his hands into gloves built into the box, allowing him to handle the device as though it was radioactive material in a top-secret lab.
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He powered on the iPhone, then closely typed in the six-digit passcode as Miami-Dade prosecutor Michael Filteau watched on. No dice. After several attempts, the phone remained decidedly unlocked.
Filteau walked back in to court to tell the judge. With that, Voigt and her boyfriend, Wesley Victor, who insists he doesn’t remember the code to his BlackBerry, were ordered to appear on May 30.
If Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Charles Johnson doesn’t believe they are being honest, he could order them both to jail for contempt of court.
The hearing came two weeks after the judge ordered Voigt and Victor to unlock their phones in a closely watched legal decision that is testing the right against self-incrimination, and highlighting the increasing challenges law enforcement faces gaining access to encrypted electronic device.
Across the nation, judges have split on whether to force defendants to give up their passwords.
In Florida, the state’s Supreme Court has yet to weigh in on the issue. But a lower appeals court in December allowed police in Sarasota to force a suspected voyeur, allegedly caught at a mall trying to take photos up women’s skirts, to give up his iPhone passcode.
Just on Friday, a Broward judge found child-abuse suspect Christopher Wheeler guilty of contempt of court for failing to open his iPhone that is suspected of containing illegal images of the victim.
Wheeler gave a password that he insisted was legit, but it didn’t work. The judge didn’t buy it. Wheeler was jailed briefly, and has posted bond while awaiting sentencing for contempt on May 30.
In the Miami case, Circuit Judge Charles Johnson said that unlocking smart phones would not violate the Fifth Amendment. “For me, this is like turning over a key to a safe-deposit box,” Johnson said.
Voigt, 29, and Victor, 33, are charged with extortion, conspiracy to extort and the unlawful use of a phone.
Prosecutors say Voigt and Victor threatened to release sex videos stolen from a phone belonging to a Miami social-media star named YesJulz unless they were paid $18,000. After their arrests last year, the videos made it to the Internet.
YesJulz is a party promoter and online marketer known for her immense social-media following. Most recently, YesJulz did some hosting at Miami’s Rolling Loud hip-hop festival.
Voigt, of Hollywood, is a self-described “fitness model” who has more than 193,000 followers on Instagram. Last fall, she starred on E!’s “Miami WAGS,” a reality show that followed the wives and girlfriends of sports celebrities.
Prosecutors say the phones, seized from the pair during their arrests, likely have incriminating text messages between the two plotting the scheme. A Miami-Dade judge has earlier issued a search warrant for the phones, but detectives were unable to access them.
On Wednesday, Victor’s attorney said he didn’t remember the password for a phone seized nearly a year ago.
“He used to change his passwords every single month,” lawyer Zeljka Bozanic told the judge. “It’s been a long time and he just doesn’t remember.”