Four men who are the alleged owners of the website Mugshots.com have been arrested on charges of identity theft, money laundering, and extortion and are awaiting extradition to California.
Xavier Becerra, Attorney General for the state of California used a prepared statement to say that the “pay-for-removal” process used by the website is an obvious attempt to profit financially by humiliating others. Individuals without the financial capability to pay for the removal of these images from the website have their future employment and housing prospects damaged by the exploitive methods used by these men.
Both Thomas Keesee and Shar Sarid were taken into custody in South Florida on Thursday and held on a nearly $2 million bail. Kishore Vidya Bhavnanie faced arraignment in Pennsylvania on Wednesday and was also given a $1.86 million bail. The fourth owner, David Usdan, was arrested in Connecticut and held on bail amounting to $150,000.
The business scheme of mugshots.com and similar sites is the charging of money to “depublish” information regarding arrests and criminal complaints lodged against individuals that are published on their site. According to an affidavit filed with courts, in most cases, whenever individuals ante up and pay the money to have the embarrassing mugshot removed from one website it simply appears on another that again requests payment.
The Attorney General’s office in California says that the four men collected $64,000 from 175 California residents over a three-year period. During the same period, the quartet collected $2 million throughout the nation from more than 5,000 individuals.
Sarid, on a personal website, says that he last worked with mugshots.com in 2013 but did not challenge the assertion by the court that he was the owner of the website during the appeal of a 2016 civil case brought against him in Illinois.
The website said that Said lived in Thailand and had never received payment from mugshots.com. However, a group of people including Said’s mother, sister, and Thomas Keesee connect Said to a bank account that received $27,000 in monthly payments from mugshots.com