Mugshot.com Owners Charged in Scheme to Extort Those with Records
The four owners of Mugshots.com are facing charges of money laundering, identity theft, and extortion related to charging fees to remove arrest records from the site. The men have been arrested and are pending extradition to California. “This pay-for-removal scheme attempts to profit off of someone else’s humiliation,” said Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “Those who can’t afford to pay into this scheme to have their information removed pay the price when they look for a job, housing, or try to build relationships with others. This is exploitation, plain and simple.”
Sahar Sarid and Thomas Keesee were arrested in South Florida. Kishore Vidya Bhavnanie was arraigned Wednesday in Pennsylvania, while David Usdan was taken into custody in Connecticut. Bail was requested at $150,000 for Usdan and $1.86 million each for the other three defendants.
They have been accused of operating a “depublishing” scheme where they collect public mugshot and arrest records and publish them to their site. When someone asks for the photo to be taken down, the website demands a fee be paid. For many, paying one site leads to the mugshot appearing on a different website.
The California Attorney General’s Office said in its release that over a three-year period, the defendants collected more than $64,000 in removal fees from approximately 175 individuals with California billing addresses. During the same period, they collected more than $2 million in removal fees from approximately 5,703 individuals.
Sarid wrote on his website May 15 that his time working with Mugshots.com ended in 2013. The website also says that Sarid lives in Thailand and has never been paid by Mugshots.com. However, in a motion to dismiss a civil case filed in Illinois in 2016, Sarid did not challenge a statement regarding whether he was the owner of Mugshots.com, and the affidavit alleges that Sarid’s sister, Shunit Sarid, mother, Aliza Sarid, and his business partner, Thomas Keesee, have all connected him with a bank account associated with Mugshots.com that brought in an average of more than $27,000 a month.
The affidavit filed May 10 also cited that numerous personal stories were shared by those who were arrested without charge, had convictions overturned, or had served their time and attempted to have their information removed from the site via a $399 payment. According to Monster, com, seventy-seven percent of employers Google and otherwise research job applicants.
One such applicant was arrested without charge in 2013. He spent one night detained in Sonoma County jail. Afterward, he applied to 100 jobs in the construction and labor fields and never received a response. A friend then pointed him to Mugshots.com, where he saw his mugshot posted.
He called the website’s 1-800 number and asked for the information to be taken down. When he was told it would cost $399, the man informed the company this was illegal. The individual on the other end simply laughed and hung up. This went on for at least another two years without resolution.
However, when people take steps to expunge their criminal records, the websites have no interest in reflecting the updated and accurate information. Mugshots.com states, “As you may be aware, expungement and pardon only apply to certain government agencies’ databases and not all of them. Certainly not to the private sector.”