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Boss of world’s largest cinema chain victim of catfish blackmail plot

The boss of the world’s largest movie theatre chain sent sexually explicit messages and photos to a woman who then tried to blackmail him for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Adam Aron, the chief executive of AMC Entertainment, which also owns the Odeon chain in Europe, exchanged messages for weeks last spring with an individual he believed was a ballet dancer with whom he had previously been in a romantic relationship.

He was, in fact, embroiled in an elaborate catfishing scam. The perpetrator, Sakoya Blackwood, used several characters – including an ex-boyfriend of the supposed dancer, and a journalist – in a bid to extort him, according to court records.

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The blackmail plot was first outlined in a federal indictment last year, but Semafor identified Aron as the target on Thursday. He only reported the incident to AMC’s board of directors once Blackwood was sentenced in July.

In a statement on X, formerly Twitter, Aron described the incident as an “entirely” personal matter. “Rather than give in to blackmail, I personally engaged counsel and other professional advisors and reported the matter to law enforcement,” he said. “I did so knowing I risked personal embarrassment. But with my access to resources, if I did not stand up against blackmail, who could?”

Blackwood pleaded guilty to one count of cyberstalking as part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors in Manhattan in March, saying she was “deeply sorry” for her actions.

Aron, who is married, has led AMC Entertainment since 2016. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

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A sentencing memorandum filed by prosecutors this summer detailed how Blackwood somehow obtained the private phone number of “the chief executive officer of a large company” – now known to be Aron – and contacted him as “Mia”, a fake character, for the first time on 16 March 2022.

Aron is said to have mistakenly believed that “Mia” was a woman from a previous relationship. “Is my memory right that you were into ballet?” he wrote. “Yes!” she replied.

The next day, relying on the guise she had created and Aron’s misunderstanding, Blackwood requested he send sexually explicit photographs. He did so, according to court filings.

On 19 March 2022, when Aron requested she reciprocate, Blackwood sourced a picture from the Instagram page of a Russian model. The pair continued to exchange sexually explicit messages.

“Send me a naughty picture,” wrote “Mia” on 4 April. The executive responded with several explicit photographs of himself and another woman.

On 11 April, Blackwood introduced a new character. “Brian”, supposedly the ex-boyfriend of “Mia”, informed Aron that he had seen “incendiary shit” on her phone, and that he would probably sell it.

Days later, “Brian” threatened to “text/email all the members of your company board the vids/images”.

Over the ensuing weeks, court filings detail how Blackwood contacted Aron posing as an employee at a media agency and a Vanity Fair reporter. By late April 2022 Aron had contacted the FBI via his attorney, according to prosecutors, and did not pay any funds.

Blackwood, from the Bronx, New York, was charged last September and sentenced in July to time already served in jail.

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“I was asked by law enforcement to keep this matter confidential during their investigation and subsequent court case,” Aron wrote on X. Describing the matter as closed, he expressed “extreme gratitude” to the US attorney’s office for the southern district of New York and the FBI.