A network of Arizona-based websites is using data from sex-offender registries maintained by law-enforcement agencies to basically extort money from purported sex-offenders, some of whom are either no longer required to register themselves or have never actually been convicted of a sex-related crime.
The Arizona extortion scheme is a variation of the “removal services” offered by some revenge porn sites, that offer to take down material for a fee (Boing Boing’s Rob Beschizza was the first to make that unsettling analogy). According to a lengthy report from Robert Anglen posted on AZ Central, the network of Arizona-based sites is taking advantage of data on sex offenders posted by law-enforcement agencies. Although those agencies make it clear that such information cannot be used to intimidate or harass sex offenders, sites like SORArchives.com, Offendex.com, and Onlinedetective.com have apparently been profiting off of it, sometimes to the tune of $499 per entry removal.
Anglen further explains the sites’ racket:
They accuse operators of posting inaccurate or old information and using the threat of exposure as a sex offender as leverage.
Operators of SORArchives.com, Offendex.com and Onlinedetective.com did not take down individual profiles after payments were made and launched online harassment campaigns against those who balked at financial demands or filed complaints, an eight-month Call 12 for Action investigation found.
The Call 12 investigation made an even more alarming discovery: some of the names and addresses that appear on these sites belong to people who’ve never been convicted of a sex crime. Moreover, the site operators ensure that all names can be found easily on a Google search, and profile specific people, publishing their home addresses, contact information, and, sometimes, photos of their Facebook friends and relatives.
It takes a lot of personal ickiness to turn sex offenders into sympathetic figures, but Chuck Rodrick and Brent Oesterblad, identified in court filings as sites’ two operators, are apparently doing their personal best (both men have felony convictions on fraud-related charges and both denied ownership of the sex offender websites). Rodrick particularly has gotten into ugly verbal exchanges with some of the sites’ targets, including a former sex offender living in Montana named Gordon Grainger, who took it upon himself to record his conversations with Rodrick and post them on YouTube so the rest of the Internet dawdling world could have access to charming outbursts like the following:
We have a soft spot for innocent people. We take them (profiles) down all of the time when people can prove they are innocent... In return, what are you going to do for us? I don’t care if you guys have an opinion on Offendex or call it extortion or whatever.
For his part, Rodrick admitted that he was recorded sounding like a comic book villain, but also pointed out cryptically that no attorney general in the U.S. would take action against the websites. Although people named on the sites say they have submitted complaints with attorneys general in Arizona, Louisiana, Montana, Virginia and Washington, as well as with the FBI and other federal agencies, so far, no agency has taken any legal action against Rodrick or Oesterblad.
However, where there’s a litigious will, there’s a way: in March, a California attorney named Janice Belucci filed a civil suit on behalf of ten people accusing Rodrick and Oesterblad of racketeering and extortion.
Image via Getty, Quinn Rooney