Thanks to readers like you, the 2nd Annual Mugshot Extortion Awareness Month was an overwhelming success. If you haven’t already seen Fusion.net’s spectacular six-part investigative documentary inspecting the commercial mugshot industry then with my highest recommendation I encourage you to check it out:
In even more great news, legislation in Kentucky aimed at stopping mugshot scams successfully made its way through the state’s senate earlier this month and shortly will be placed on the Governor’s desk for autographing. This makes Kentucky the 14th state in the nation to specifically pass a law against these types of scams.
As always thank you for supporting the cause of changing the law to stop mugshot extortion.
The commercial mugshot industry’s “2015 Trendsetter Award” goes to Busted! Mugshots’ visionary, Kyle Prall, for being the first mugshot website owner to actually publish his own booking photograph. Under Prall’s brilliant leadership, Busted! Mugshots grew from a locally sold shame rag into a nation-wide extortion scam.
Somewhere around 2010 the American mugshot shame rag industry was pioneered by individuals with zero background in journalism. In order to justify shamelessly humiliating members of the community for profit on a biweekly basis, publishers must continue to market their products as “crime-fighting” “public services.”
There will always be those who will do or say anything to make a buck, but for anyone who would presume to call themselves a journalist while at the same time copycatting this ill-conceived business model is more than a disappointment –they are a disgrace to the profession. Undermining the notion of civic duty and making a mockery of due process is probably not what forefathers envisioned when they guaranteed freedom of the press in the constitution. Let’s face it, even someone who would spend money on one of those tabloids is probably aware enough to know that it is nothing more than voyeuristic garbage.
The best thing any citizen can do in order to disrupt a fledgling local mugshot mag is to speak to those who retail the publication. Going after the advertisers is a waste of time because they will just ignore you. However, the corner store where you get your coffee in the morning and know the people who work there will listen. If these shame rags rub you the wrong way, then say something about it. If you don’t want these things in your communities then speak up. Retailers refusing to stock these publications will diminish circulation and eventually drive down the value of ad space. If profit disappears so will these tabloids. Do you think these publishers are so committed to community service that they will reach into their own pockets and keep things operating? I don’t.
This memo is a few years old but outlines useful tactics for combating this form of public disservice:
For those of you who haven’t already heard, @_FloridaMan on twitter currently is the hottest thing in the evolving field of mugshot journalism. Some credit the state’s “Proud Sunshine Laws” for cultivating an environment in which this unique form of regional literature is flourishing.
The Florida press is batting a 1,000 when it comes to killing legislation aimed at mugshot sites. Another bill written this particular session dealing with the commercial mug shot industry died earlier this month joining the other six. Some may be beginning to wonder if this state is simply unequal to the task of passing a law against mugshot scams while, at the same time, preserving the enjoyment, nay, the First Amendment right of the public to make fun of and laugh at idiot criminals who look stupid in their mug shots.
Remember when the New York Times did an investigative piece on the Mugshot Racket and saw considerable changes before the darn thing was even published? –Florida media isn’t going to do anything like that so it’s time to start thinking outside the box. Perhaps, Florida should solicit bids from various online newspapers that display mug shot galleries on their homepages then hire the best programmers the state has to offer and create a government-sponsored online booking photograph database. The maintenance of this database could be financed by court-ordered “publicity” fees remitted by those arrested. The photograph will then permanently be cataloged in this database giving Florida reporters an invaluable go-to resource when doing research for “Florida man” stories. As an added bonus, this plan will undoubtedly dry up the state’s demand for mugshot removal. It’s a sure bet that sooner or later someone will to start whining about the lack of benefits this type of public shaming has had on societies throughout history. In which case, we will frankly tell them to shut up because mug shots are public records.
I’m pretty sure the folks over at bocanewsnow.com just played an elaborate April fool’s day prank on the reputation management industry. On April 1st, the Florida news website, bocanewsnow.com, renowned for reporting local mugshots and adding their hard-hitting two cents to these photos announced they were considering accepting money from “those charged with DUI, weapons charges, battery, and other crimes” to remove their mugshots. They also stated that an undisclosed portion of the undisclosed revenue would be donated to a local charity.
This hoax was obviously intended to bait reputation management industry pros into pitching business proposals to reporters. No legitimate journalistic endeavor would ever seriously charge money not to publish something -or for that matter- remove something already published. This little joke was way funnier than any zinger this newspaper has ever added to any mug shot photo.
It’s nice to see journalists in Boca have a sense of humor!
Prior to mugshots.com rolling out the “unpublish” scheme of making money off people featured on their website, one would have to contact an “authorized mugshot removal vendor” to get rid of his/her mugshot. The reason the website’s business format all of the sudden changed could have been because they think the word “unpublish” sounds like a more journalistic way to hide their unethical business practices behind the First Amendment. Or, perhaps, it was simply because someone found out who all these “vendors” were. Here is a list I found of the former vendor sites that used to do business with mugshots.com:
Before taking a closer look at only one of these former “vendor” websites found in the list above, I would like to briefly go over a couple of things:
First off, here’s how Merriam Webster fully defines racketeer (n): one who obtains money by an illegal enterprise usually involving intimidation
Lesli Epstein Angel was connected to the no-longer operating removal service, mugshotbusters.com. This woman also happens to be the ex-wife of mugshots.com’s head honcho Florida attorney, Marc Gary Epstein. Mugshots.com likes to point out that they don’t “solicit” customers for removal services. However, could it be possible that Mr. Epstein, his ex-wife, along with the other former vendors may have anticipated that people would be willing to pay them large amounts of money to have compromising photos removed from mugshots.com as well as the first page of google? It’s in the public’s best interest to remain informed about the evident connections between mugshot publishing and mugshot removal services whilst legislation concerning public records is being debated nationwide.
IF the Free Speech vs. Extortion controversy surrounding mugshot websites is ever going to end both sides of the debate must be equally made clear. Mugshots.com is the largest mugshot site and has been the most publicly ardent in refuting allegations of any wrongdoing. Astute First Amendment minds even find themselves unable to disagree with much of what the website has anonymously written about the necessity of mug shots being available for public inspection:
“Imagine a world with no transparency, ‘star chambers’ and citizens who are secretly dragged into investigation [never to see] the light of day again. No one sees. No one hears. No one knows. It’s hard to imagine this was all not so long ago. Russia? China? North Korea? Cuba? Or even today, Guantanamo Bay, or the CIA’s ‘black sites’? Greater openness and transparency are the foundation of strong government of the people.”
Sadly, it was the established Florida newspapers who were responsible for killing a would-be mugshot law last year. HB 265 was unable to overcome a swarm of published editorials written by nay-saying reporters touting the uncompromising importance of “the public’s right to know.”
In the interest of adding context to this ongoing public dispute being deliberated within courtrooms and legislative committee hearings, I declare March to be Mugshot Extortion Awareness Month! This month’s series of blog posts will delve into the origins and evolution of mugshots.com and hopefully give the public a more complete understanding of why critics have labeled its business model as extortion.
Mugshots.com according to ICANN whois lookup is currently registered to an organization in Belize. It appears this organization used an Australian company, Faboulus.com, as the registrar. According to online sources, Sahar Sarid purchased the site in 2002 and it was allegedly sold to an undiclosed buyer back in 2011. His company ashantiplc.com was the DNS server for 5 years. Florida resident, Jimmy Orfield, held mugshots.com for a period of time and transferred the site’s server’s from citydirect.com to Sarid’s company ashantiplc.com.
Please visit this blog frequently to stay updated on the continuing effort to pass state laws restricting the online mugshot publishing industry.
SB 108 will soon officially make “court records of a criminal case confidential after 120 days have passed from the date of the accused person being acquitted or dismissed of all charges.” The Alaskan press showed up to oppose this bill reciting the usual words of First Amendment majesticness— similar to statements that those who commercially misuse mug shots have been so lucratively mimicking.
I highly doubt the founding fathers are turning over in their graves worrying about increased privacy rights and the ability of Alaskan citizens who were never convicted of the crimes they were charged with to successfully find jobs.
One thing that inefficient lawmakers and those behind the mugshot racket have in common is that many of them live quite comfortably in the state of Florida. Take a quick a glance at this page of online petitions and you will get an idea of how rampant mug shot extortion disrupts the lives of Florida residents with more prevalence than in other parts of the country. There is no sugarcoating that the recent death of HB 265 is a huge defeat for the cause (and a big victory for scammers worldwide.) So, let’s recount the events that transpired in the Sunshine State leading to the death of this anti-mug shot extortion bill with the hope that other states can avoid similar failures.
On Tuesday, November 05, 2013 at 11:05 HB 265 was filed. The highlight of this bill was when it glided past the Criminal Justice Subcommittee with a vote of 13 yeas and 0 nays –worrying journalists across the state. During the deliberation Representative Matt Gaetz, a public records attorney, brought up the fact that he had his mug shot taken once and that ultimately he wasn’t convicted of anything. According to Florida news sources, Gaetz said “a mugshot bill was filed last year, but he didn’t give it a hearing in his committee. He said he changed his mind this year because online mugshots are a big problem for some people, particularly those who “don’t put themselves forward to live a more public life” like he’s done.”
Shortly afterwards, the Floridian press portrayed Representative Gaetz as a privileged daddy’s boy who didn’t have to deal with the same standard consequences everyone else has to go through. It did not go unnoticed that Gaetz did a fine job of setting himself up for this little spanking he received in the headlines. On Friday, May 02, 2014 at 10:39 PM this bill was pronounced dead. “The public right to know is so important killing the bill this session was the sensible course of action.” said Gaetz.
Maybe you’re thinking why the heck should I contact state lawmakers about my mug shot being on the internet when Florida keeps dropping the ball and some Debbie-downers are claiming that these laws are all ineffective? I would say that getting in touch with your legislators is more practical than running for congress yourself, drafting your own mugshot bill, and putting it on the Governor’s desk.