SAN FRANCISCO – Attorney General Kamala D. Harris announced today that Casey E. Meyering, the operator of a cyber exploitation website which posted intimate images of unsuspecting victims without their consent, was sentenced to three years in jail.
“Meyering humiliated and belittled victims by operating a website that posted their intimate images and personal information, then extorted them for removal,” said Attorney General Harris. “California will not tolerate the illegal actions of cyber exploitation operators who profit by degrading victims from behind a computer screen. This sentence sends a clear message that cyber exploitation will lead to jail time.”
In May, Meyering pled no contest to one count of extortion, three counts of attempted extortion, and one count of conspiracy.
An investigation by the California Department of Justice’s eCrime unit found that Meyering operated WinByState.com, a cyber exploitation website which solicited the anonymous, public posting of private photographs containing nude and explicit images of individuals without their permission.
Described as “a user supported website where you can trade your ex-girlfriend, your current girlfriend, or any other girl that you might know,” WinByState.com solicited users to identify their “wins” by city and state, often using the victim’s complete or partial name. In the California-specific user forum for the website, there were over 400 postings.
WinbyState.com also required victims to pay $250 via a Google Wallet account to remove their posted photographs, known as “takedowns”. The account was named TakeDownHammer and it was registered to Meyering at a fictitious Beverly Hills storefront. Law enforcement agents purchased a “takedown” for one of the victims in Napa and traced the funds to Meyering’s bank account in Tulsa. Surveillance footage from the bank identified him withdrawing money from the account.
The investigation began in February 2013, stemming from a complaint by a Northern California victim to a Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety detective. The victim suspected that a college classmate had hacked the victim’s computer and retrieved nude images. Through search warrants, law enforcement discovered that the victim’s classmate had indeed hacked and stolen nude images of her. The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office convicted the classmate for identity-theft related crimes and he received an eight-month jail sentence.
Meyering’s sentence follows the sentencing of Kevin Bollaert, the operator of a similar cyber exploitation website. In April, Bollaert was sentenced to 18 years of incarceration following a verdict which found him guilty of 6 counts of extortion and 21 counts of identity theft. The Bollaert case was the first criminal prosecution of a cyber exploitation website operator in the country.
Attorney General Harris has sponsored a package of bills in the California Legislature that will increase protections for victims by providing critical tools for law enforcement to help investigate and prosecute the growing number of cyber exploitation cases in California. SB 676, authored by Senator Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres), passed the Senate and has been sent to the Assembly. AB 1310, authored by Assemblymember Mike Gatto (D-Glendale), passed the Assembly and has been sent to the Senate.
In addition, Attorney General Harris has convened a working group of 50 major technology companies, victim advocates, and legislative and law enforcement leaders to fight cyber exploitation through a public-private partnership. The Attorney General’s working group on cyber exploitation is focused on four key areas: (1) developing an industry statement of principles, (2) education and prevention, (3) law enforcement training and (4) collaboration, legislation and advocacy. The working group includes four major tech companies – Facebook, Instagram, Microsoft and Twitter.
Attorney General Harris created the eCrime Unit in 2011 to investigate and prosecute identity theft crimes, cybercrimes, and other crimes involving the use of technology.