KEY WEST, Fla. — When Mitchell W. Hill wasn't whipping up tasty cuisine as a chef at a popular Key West restaurant, he was posing on Facebook as a former sorority sister, police say. In that persona, he is suspected of blackmailing college women into sending naked photos or webcam videos of themselves in the nude.
Hill's reported five-month reign of stalking and terrorizing as many as 30 college students at several universities came to an end at a run-down rental home on Packer Street with Christmas lights on the roof and a wreath on the door.
There, the 27-year-old man was arrested on a Louisiana warrant for two cases of video voyeurism, two counts of extortion and 12 counts of attempted video voyeurism, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced Friday. Computers and other evidence were collected from the home.
The arrest brought relief to the Louisiana State University Police Department, which had been working with Facebook managers and state attorney investigators to track down the alleged cyber stalker of 11 female LSU students.
"It was extremely alarming,'' said Sgt. Frank Tabor, the LSU Police Department spokesman. "We didn't know a whole lot about the suspect.''
Police at LSU were fearful that the female students targeted over the Internet could also be harmed physically, especially because the stalker seemed to know so much about them.
"He could have been located anywhere,'' Tabor said. "It just so happens he was located in Key West.''
The case got national attention on Dec. 2, when Florida State freshman Ashley Atchison went on NBC's Today show to describe how she had been terrorized online so much that she dropped out of school.
Atchison, a pretty brunette, explained how the Facebook friend, who went by the name Lexie Hillbrenner, posed as a former Kappa Delta sorority sister who wanted to help groom her for a sorority leadership position.
At first, Atchison said it seemed legitimate because the person seemed to know so much of her personal information.
But the online chats, which sometimes lasted up to two hours, got worse, she said.
"They asked me what color underwear I was wearing,'' she told Today. "And then they asked me to go even further and ball them up and put them in my mouth.''
The person threatened to get Atchison kicked out of the sorority if she didn't comply. That's when Atchison went to the police. She could not be reached for further comment Friday.
At Florida State University, a police major said there were at least nine victims of the cyber stalking identified since Aug. 31, and he believed there were more.
Atchison's story was a familiar one to school authorities and law enforcement officials at several other universities, including the University of Florida, Auburn University, the University of Alabama and the University of Tennessee.
In August, three to four women reported harassment to the University of Florida's Office of Sororities and Fraternities Affairs. Since then, eight have come forward, said Patricia Telles-Irvin, vice president of student affairs.
The school took action and notified fraternities and sororities about the problem in late August. ``As far as we know, we did not have any incidents of students sending pictures,'' Telles-Irvin said.
Apparently, the cyber stalker moved on to other universities. The first reported case at Louisiana State University occurred on Oct. 5. A second student came forward with the same complaint the next day.
"At that point, LSU investigators thought there were more victims that could be targeted,'' Tabor said. "We sent out an e-mail to all female students associated with Greek organizations.''.
Nine more students came forward. That's when LSU investigators contacted Facebook administrators to acquire screen names and IP addresses involved. IP stands for Internet Protocol and is a unique series of numbers assigned to every device connected to a network.
"When we received the list of addresses and names we realized the victims were not just at LSU,'' Tabor said.
On Friday afternoon, Hill went before Monroe County Judge Wayne Miller for his first appearance and extradition hearing. He appeared alone , wearing the blue county jail uniform. He is locked up in the Monroe County Detention Center on Stock Island.
Monroe County Assistant State Attorney Mark Wilson said Hill could not be extradited until the resolution of his arrest for driving under the influence with property damage last January in Key West. Police say Hill blew a .18 early in the morning after losing control of his pickup truck and hitting a telephone pole and chain-link fence. His pretrial conference is scheduled for Jan. 31.
In 2002, Hill was charged with DUI when he crashed his vehicle into another, killing a 67-year-old woman in Illinois. Hill was 19 and the driver of one of the two vehicles involved in the collision.
His blood alcohol taken at the hospital was a .077, just under the legal limit of .08. The driver of the minivan, and son of the woman who died, also had been drinking and was charged with DUI.
Matt Mauer, Sangamon County's First Assistant State's Attorney, said charges of DUI and illegally transporting alcohol were dismissed and that Hill was convicted of failure to obey a stop sign, receiving a fine.
It is not clear when Hill moved to Key West. For the past year, he has been a chef at Salute! Restaurant on Higgs Beach.
Wilson said prosecutors in Leon County likely will bring additional charges against Hill.
Telles-Irvin, of the University of Florida, said the case highlights the dangers of the Internet, but noted that ``easiest way to prevent Internet stalkers is be prudent and delete, delete, delete.''