By MICHAEL MacLEOD
A TEENAGER extorted almost £90,000 from ten men on gay sex chat lines by threatening to play recordings of their sordid calls to their families, friends and the police.
Kelz Sutherland, 19, ran a fake sex hotline from his bedroom at his parents’ home in Edinburgh taking incoming calls from men who had seen adverts in magazines.
Often putting on a voice, Sutherland would quickly lead the caller into talking about underage sex before interrupting the call with using a different voice pretending to be a call monitor.
He then warned callers that the discussions were illegal and recordings could be sent to police.
However he said they could be deleted from the ‘system’ for a fee, pocketing himself thousands of pounds.
Some of the blackmail victims were left in serious financial difficulty.
Others said they were left stressed when Sutherland – acting as an official from the chat lines – repeatedly harassed them for payments.
The elaborate scam only came to light when one of the men contacted police, who then set up a sting codenamed ‘Operation Machine’ to track down Sutherland.
By tracing the bank details given to the callers, detectives found he had been leading a lavish lifestyle of chauffeur driven cars and nights out at expensive bars with the extorted cash.
He pleaded guilty today at Edinburgh Sheriff Court to extorting £87,700 from 10 men aged between 32 and 65 years old between 1 January 2008 and 31 December 2009.
A sheriff told him the callers had been left “mortified and embarrassed” by their ordeals.
During the hearing, Sutherland began shouting from the dock and was warned he could face contempt of court charges unless he quietened down.
He said: “These men are all paedophiles, that’s why I targeted them.
“All these men are trying to say they’re victims but why’s nothing being done to them.
“They are sick people.”?
The court was told that every single caller had told police that the person on the other end of the line had initiated the discussions about underage sex, although Sutherland protested this.
One caller, aged 40, even claimed the stress of his £2,100 debt to Sutherland may have been a factor when he was diagnosed with epilepsy, according to procurator fiscal Graeme Jessop.
The prosecutor told court: “Once police heard from one caller, they began recording calls to his number.
“He threatened to bring shame on their families by exposing the content of the calls about underage sex.”?
Initially his mother, Mary, was arrested because the bank account given to callers was in her name.
She told police she had given the account over to her son, who she said worked as an escort and “talked sexy” to callers in his bedroom.
Mr Jessop added: “Some complainers suffered high degrees of stress as a result of the debt.
“One was admitted to hospital for two weeks for treatment and another said the stress may have been a factor when he was diagnosed with epilepsy.
“Another man said it was extremely upsetting as he went into his maximum overdraft.
“One said he had difficulty leaving the house, had trouble sleeping and was generally very upset as a result.”
He said Sutherland used the money to pay a chauffeur company, who were traced and confirmed he was a regular customer and went to lavish nights out.?
The biggest single amount extorted by Sutherland came from a 62 year-old caller who phoned what he thought was a one-to-one chat line.
Sutherland led the discussion towards underage sex, only to then pretend to interrupt the call as a monitor called Nick.
He told the elderly caller it would cost him £34,000 to remove the recording from the system, otherwise it would be sent to the police, who would put him on the sex offenders register.
The caller replied: “I can’t afford this”,? but Sutherland demanded it in three instalments and pursued the payments for three months until he had the full amount.
When police eventually raided Sutherland’s home in Bath Street, Edinburgh, on 23 January this year they found the personal details of the callers including their dates of birth, phone numbers and even their friends and relatives’ addresses.
None of the cash was recovered by police.
His defence agent Fiona Cooper said: “He doesn’t accept that he was the one that led any of the callers into inappropriate conversations.
“He sees himself as having taken action against people that he viewed as paedophiles.
“He also doesn’t accept that he was the only person involved.
“Another person received substantial amounts of the money too.”?
Sheriff Deirdre MacNeill QC said: “I can see this gentleman has a troubled background and that will all be fully explored in a psychiatric report.
“Often these people are absolutely mortified and embarrassed and the last people they will go to are the police.”?
Sutherland was remanded in custody pending background reports and is due to be sentenced later this month.