Attorney General Becerra Announces Criminal Charges Against Four Individuals Behind Cyber Exploitation Website
SACRAMENTO — California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced charges of extortion, money laundering, and identity theft against four defendants who are allegedly behind the exploitative website Mugshots.com. The website mines data from police and sheriffs' department websites to collect individuals' names, booking photos and charges, then republishes the information online without the individuals' knowledge or consent. Once subjects request that their booking photos be removed, they are routed to a secondary website called Unpublisharrest.com and charged a "de-publishing" fee to have the content removed. Mugshots.com does not remove criminal record information until a subject pays the fee. This is the case even if the subject had charges dismissed or had been arrested due to mistaken identity or law enforcement error. Those subjects who cannot pay the fee may subsequently be denied housing, employment, or other opportunities because their booking photo is readily available on the internet.
"This pay-for-removal scheme attempts to profit off of someone else's humiliation," said Attorney General 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."
The defendants named in the complaint are Sahar Sarid, Kishore Vidya Bhavnanie, Thomas Keesee, and David Usdan. They are the alleged owners and operators of Mugshots.com. Over a three-year period, the defendants extracted more than $64,000 in removal fees from approximately 175 individuals with billing addresses in California. Nationally, the defendants took more than $2 million in removal fees from approximately 5,703 individuals for the same period.
The Northern California Computer Crimes Task Force (NC3TF), a multijurisdictional group of top law enforcement personnel and the State’s District Attorneys focused on tackling cyber crime, led the investigation with assistance from the California Attorney General's Office. The defendants currently reside in other states, and the California Attorney General's Office is seeking their extradition to California. Arrest warrants were served with the assistance of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, working with the Broward County Sheriff's Office and Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office; the Connecticut State Police, working with the Connecticut Division of Criminal Justice - State's Attorney's Office; and the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General.
The California Attorney General's Office will prosecute the case.
If you believe you are a victim of Mugshots.com, you are encouraged to file a police report with your local police department so you will have documentation of your complaint. If your booking photo was taken in California, or you were in California when you contacted Mugshots.com to “de-publish” your information, please contact the Attorney General's eCrime Unit at eCrimeUnit@doj.ca.gov. Out-of-state complaints can be reported to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) https://www.ic3.gov.
It is important to note that a criminal indictment contains charges that are only allegations against a person. Every defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.