By Miriam Raftery
Photo: Mugshots.com owners Thomas Keesee (left) and Sahar Sarid (right)
May 17, 2018 (Sacramento) -- California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has announced charges of extortion, money laundering, and identity theft against four defendants who are allegedly behind the “exploitative” website Mugshots.com. The owners of Mugshot.com, arrested in Florida, now have their own booking mugshots and face prosecution in California.
According to the Attorney General’s office, 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. The company refuses to remove the information unless people pay a fee—even if the charges were dropped or the arrest was found to be based on mistaken identity or law enforcement error.
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. 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, Becerra’s office reports.
The Northern California Computer Crimes Task Force, a multijurisdictional group of top law enforcement personnel and the State’s District Attorneys focused on tackling cybercrime, 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. 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, 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.