‘Campaign of terror’: Breckenridge man sentenced to probation in cyberstalking case
John McCallister, a Breckenridge man accused of stalking and harassing a local woman for years, pleaded guilty on Monday to felony stalking and misdemeanor harassment.
He was originally charged with nine felonies and 10 misdemeanors, including criminal impersonation and extortion, but those charges were dropped as part of a plea deal.
McCallister was ordered to spend 90 days in jail as a condition of his four-year probation. He was taken into custody at the end of his plea hearing. If he abides by the terms of probation — which prohibit him from using the internet or contacting his victim, among other conditions — the charges will be dismissed.
The case, outlined in a 12-page affidavit alleging that McCallister used aliases and masked IP addresses to wage a “campaign of terror” against Johanna Alperin, has been years in the making and was the first of its kind in Summit County. Ultimately, however, the complexity of the evidence led the prosecution to seek a deal to resolve the case without a jury.
Prosecutor Lisa Hunt said that the case had taken tremendous time and effort to investigate, and presenting the web of highly technical evidence to a jury would be difficult.
McCallister’s attorney, Dana Christiansen, agreed. He said that since the case would be both difficult to prove and difficult to defend, a deal preventing a trial was appropriate.
He also argued for leniency in sentencing, saying his client had no criminal record and had already spent 10 days in jail on the charges.
In his plea, McCallister admitted to making repeated, credible threats to Alperin and making unwanted, obscene communications with the intent to harass.
During a nearly 30-minute victim impact statement, Alperin and her attorney, Bob Gregory, urged District Judge Mark Thompson to deliver a punitive sentence.
“If the court does accept the plea entered today, I ask that you impose the strongest sentence available under the law, including jail time,” Alperin said. “The degree to which Mr. McCallister stalked and terrorized me is inconceivable, but we are fortunate to have been able to track it all.”
During her statement, Alperin distributed copies of communications from the case that she allegedly received from McCallister, some of which were extremely obscene, threatening and at times anti-Semitic.
She described being sent pictures of her home in Frisco and then, after she moved, receiving an email in Hebrew that included the GPS coordinates of her new house. Alperin also recalled being repeatedly impersonated online by McCallister, who she said sought to destroy her credibility and employment prospects.
“Her mental health and day-to-day life have been dramatically impacted by this case,” said Nancy Black, a psychotherapist with Summit County Advocates for Victims of Assault. “The relentlessness of the assaults and threats have affected jobs, friendships and family — there are layers and layers of trauma.”
Alperin didn’t initially know the identity of her stalker, preventing police from opening a criminal investigation. But after filing a John Doe civil suit, she and her attorney were able to subpoena internet companies and trace the harassment to McCallister, a former neighbor and acquaintance.
In December, Alperin won nearly $2 million in damages from McCallister for defamation, invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and conspiracy.
The nearly 500 pages of documents filed in that case formed the basis of the police investigation.
“Cyberstalking is very hard to track,” said Gregory. “But I now believe that local law enforcement is more capable to tackle these types of crimes in the future.”
McCallister’s own remarks were brief. He said he acknowledged that Alperin had suffered great anguish for years, although he avoided directly taking responsibility. He added that he had changed his day-to-day routine to avoid contact with Alperin and that he would fulfill the conditions of his probation.
“Not only has the impact been everlasting, but it has also been pervasive and relentless,” Judge Thompson said before ruling. “The allegations in this case and the evidence are almost unbelievable in their disturbing and disgusting content.”
Thompson accepted the DA’s deal and sentenced McCallister to probation, citing the evidentiary burden of the case if it were to go to trial.
“There is no way this court can enter any order that would make you whole, Ms. Alperin,” Thompson said. “But I think you have taken the step you needed to take most to make you whole by coming in and making a statement for the record in this court.”