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Chicago man accused of cyber-stalking former bosses, police officers

By Jeremy Gorner and Jason Meisner, Chicago Tribune –

CHICAGO — Jicheng “Kevin” Liu was a prolific burglar with a mean streak who cyber-stalked anyone who crossed him, Cook County prosecutors say.

In retaliation for his arrest for the theft of a stroller, Liu ran online ads claiming his accuser performed acts of prostitution out of her residence in Chicago, authorities said. The woman and her husband were awakened in the middle of the night several times earlier this year by men at their front door who thought they had appointments for sex.

Prosecutors said Liu sometimes mistakenly targeted the wrong people, then unleashed a torrent of malicious allegations online against them. In one case, wrongly thinking another victim caused his arrest, he alleged the woman, a nurse at a children’s hospital, routinely mistreated patients, they said. Then posing as a female home buyer on the Internet, Liu accused the woman’s husband, a real estate agent, of raping her, according to prosecutors.

Another couple who sold high-end goods on eBay on consignment suspected Liu of peddling stolen merchandise. When he discovered they had moved to stop the online auction, he flooded consumer websites with complaints about their honesty and emailed veiled threats about their young child, authorities alleged. The couple said the cyber-attacks cost them their online business.

In sweeping indictments of the 32-year-old Liu earlier this month, prosecutors alleged his cyber-stalking victims ranged from former bosses who had fired him years earlier to two Chicago police officers who had arrested him.

Prosecutors have linked Liu to some 90 burglaries in Cook County in which more than a half million dollars in merchandise was stolen. They said Liu would spend days casing a particular street, pretending to be talking on his cellphone as he walked around looking for easy theft opportunities such as packages just delivered on front porches. He also used stolen garage door openers — with the owner’s address marked on each — to burglarize from them time and again, prosecutors said.

Authorities found stolen merchandise piled high in Liu’s Chicago residence and in at least one 10-by-10-foot storage units he rented. “It was like being in an episode of ‘Hoarders,’ only all of the stuff was stolen,” one investigator said.

But it was the scope of the alleged cyber-stalking that set Liu apart, prosecutors said.

“It’s a whole different ballgame than anything we’ve indicted before because everything is in cyberspace,” said Assistant State’s Attorney John Mahoney, a supervisor in the special prosecutions bureau. “ … We’ve had to send search warrants for things that exist solely on the Internet.”

Liu, a Chinese national who authorities say has been living illegally in the U.S. for a decade, faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted on the most serious of the multiple counts of cyber-stalking, theft and damaging victims’ businesses.

According to a 55-page complaint for a search warrant, one alleged victim’s own investigative work proved crucial to linking Liu to the vicious cyber-attacks. The Chicago homeowner happened to spot Liu stealing a package from his front porch in March 2011, but Liu managed to escape, authorities said.

When the victim spotted Liu casing the neighborhood last August, police found him hiding under a porch, according to the complaint. But the misdemeanor trespassing charge was later thrown out of court.

Authorities believe, however, that Liu learned the identity of his accuser from a police report documenting his arrest.

Early this year, the victim discovered from a “Google alert” — a feature on the popular search engine that allows users to learn when they’re named in web postings — that he was the intended target of a scathing review assailing his ethics. The next day, Google alerts poured in about his wife, ripping her event-planning business.

The victim concluded the attacks were related after noticing similar defamatory phrases had been used in the separate postings. From more online research, he was able to learn that the attack on his wife had been plagiarized almost verbatim from a review that blasted a woman from Virginia. The victim ultimately figured out Liu was behind the attacks after hearing from the Virginia woman that she had fired Liu seven years earlier, authorities said.

Through more comprehensive searches, the victim identified about 10 others who allegedly had been defamed by Liu on consumer websites, according to the complaint. Among those were two Chicago cops who had arrested Liu. A posting on a web site accused one of the officers of molesting half a dozen underage children.

The Chicago Tribune spoke with several of Liu’s alleged victims, but Renee Molda was the only one who agreed to be identified for this story. The others said they still feared retribution from Liu even though he is in jail awaiting trial and likely to be deported to China after his criminal charges are resolved.

Molda said she and her fiance, Steve Seibert, had sold merchandise on consignment on eBay for a number of years, but they decided to post an ad for their services on Craigslist with sales slowing in summer 2010.

Liu responded, and during their first meeting, the couple was impressed by his clean-cut, well-spoken appearance but a little concerned to find the storage unit filled with goods.

“He wanted us to do over $100,000 … in sales. And he gave us a detailed spreadsheet with the items that he had,” Molda said in a telephone interview.

At a second meeting, Molda said she thought it was a bit odd that he gave her a key to the storage facility and the freedom to bring customers there without Liu present.

By then, the two already had dozens of Liu’s items on sale on eBay. Among the merchandise they brought home from the last trip to the storage unit had been a golf bag. Inside they found a receipt — with a name other than Liu’s.

They reached out to the owner only to find out that his garage and those of several neighbors had been burglarized.

Fearful that they were in the midst of an auction of stolen merchandise, the couple attached a disclaimer on eBay. Little did they know that Liu became aware of the warning, too, because he had been bidding on his own merchandise, Molda said.

The harassment soon began, she said. First came hordes of spam in their e-mail account. Then Internet pornography. And even more maddening were the text messages Liu allegedly sent to them.

“‘Have you checked on your son? Is he sleeping?’” Molda recalled one of the messages saying. “He was naming members of my family (and) telling me that as long as he lived, he’s going to make my life a living hell.”

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