Naval officer charged with harassment, cyberstalking, identity theft against ex-wife

A U.S. Navy officer from Silver Spring, Maryland, is in jail for an alleged campaign of cyberstalking, identity theft and harassment against his ex-wife during a child custody dispute, federal prosecutors say.

In a news release, the U.S. Department of Justice said Lt. Cmdr. Jason Michael Leidel, a 42-year-old U.S. Navy officer, and his girlfriend, 43-year-old Sarah Elizabeth Sorg, took part in a campaign of harassment to deprive Leidel’s ex-wife of custody over their two children and access to his pension and retirement accounts for ongoing divorce settlements.

Leidel is in custody after he faced a U.S. magistrate judge on Friday. He will appear for a detention hearing in Greenbelt, Maryland, on Monday.

Among the allegations, prosecutors said that Leidel and Sorg “used spoofed and fraudulent email accounts and phone numbers to falsely create communications purporting to be from his ex-wife, thus causing criminal charges to be filed against her, disrupt her employment, and interfere with her personal life.”

Their plan had been to portray Leidel’s ex-wife as “mentally unstable,” federal prosecutors said.

Sorg, a senior trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Transportation, shared a home with Leidel in Silver Spring. Prosecutors said she actively conspired with and aided Leidel in the campaign against his ex-wife.

According to prosecution documents, Leidel and his wife permanently separated in 2018 after he had been accepted to a Ph.D. program at the Uniformed Services University for the Health Sciences in Bethesda. Leidel’s wife and their children moved back to Virginia Beach, Virginia, where he had previously been stationed.

Based on a 91-page affidavit, prosecutors said that since the Leidel’s 2018 separation, Michael Leidel had engaged in “an ongoing and extidnsive scheme to harass his ex-wife.”

According to the affidavit, Leidel’s harassment included:

  • compromising several of her personal online accounts; sending emails purportedly on (the ex-wife’s) behalf in order to sabotage her employment
  • generating fraudulent government records to include medical records to be used against (the ex-wife) in court
  • filing false reports with various police departments and state/municipal agencies
  • spoofing email addresses
  • filing court motions based on knowingly false information and statements

According to investigators, following their separation, Leidel’s ex-wife began looking for work as a teacher in the Virginia Beach area. In 2018, at an elementary school where she applied, the principal received an email with the subject line, “moral compass of your new teacher.”

In the email, Leidel allegedly wrote that his ex-wife had engaged in an extramarital affair.

“Probably not the best vantage for your schools demographics. Just saying,” the email stated in part. “I have sexually explicit emails plus phone records that corroborate that the to authors of these emails (are) who I claim. The woman happens to work for you.”

Prosecutors said that Leidel held different email accounts for the purpose of harassing his ex-wife and interfering with her employment.

In some of the fake emails, Leidel attempted to spread rumors about his ex-wife, including claims she had aborted a child, abused prescription drugs and neglected her kids, prosecutors said.

In one email, Leidel impersonated his ex-wife and fabricated sordid confessions of drug use and sexual promiscuity that were then sent to friends.

In a September 2020 incident, prosecutors said Sorg filed a false police report against Leidel’s ex-wife, claiming she had made threats of violence against the couple.

Leidel’s ex-wife was arrested in Virginia Beach on an extradition warrant from Maryland and was kept in jail for four days before the charges were dismissed.

Then, when Leidel’s ex-wife was married again to a Marine Corps officer, Leidel impersonated a whistle-blower and began a campaign to strip the officer of his security clearance. Leidel also used a fake email to impersonate his ex-wife and tell child welfare officers that the officer in question was a molester, according to the affidavit.

Prosecutors said that Sorg was aware of Leidel’s use of fake email accounts to harass his ex-wife and, as early as August 2020, provided assistance “to harass the victim, interfere with court proceedings, and perpetrate fraud on courts in Montgomery County, Maryland and Virginia Beach, Virginia,” according to court documents.

Federal agents have also alleged Leidel had illegally used a Department of Defense-issued computer during his online harassment campaign.

In addition, prosecutors said that when Montgomery County police began investigating Leidel, he began a similar impersonation campaign against one of the investigators, sending obscene messages and spoofing the detective’s email to send racist messages to police leadership.

If convicted, prosecutors said Leidel and Sorg will face “a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison for conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and for cyberstalking; a mandatory sentence of two years in federal prison for aggravated identity theft; and one year in federal prison for fraud related to a protected computer.”

Joshua Barlow

Joshua Barlow is a writer, composer, and producer who has worked for CGTN, Atlantic Public Media, and National Public Radio. He lives in Northeast Washington, D.C., where he pays attention to developments in his neighborhood, economic issues, and social justice.

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