Monday, April 7, 2014

AZ - Court hammers operator of Internet intimidation sites

ExtortionOriginal Article

04/05/2014

By Robert Anglen

A Valley man accused of running an Internet extortion racket was dealt a blow last month when a judge found he posted information on websites suggesting a decorated combat veteran with no criminal record was a child molester.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper imposed several sanctions against Charles "Chuck" Rodrick, saying evidence showed he controlled websites where operators demanded money from sex offenders and harassed those who complained.

In a seven-page ruling March 26, Cooper found Rodrick controlled the websites, owned the domain names and violated court orders to remove posts involving three people he sued for defamation after they publicly decried the websites, including his ex-wife and her boyfriend and a convicted sex offender from Washington.

"He is the administrator for these websites and, in that capacity, is the only person capable of adding or removing information from these websites," Cooper wrote.

Cooper also sanctioned Rodrick's girlfriend, Traci Heisig, a court reporter and owner of Desert Hills Reporting in Phoenix. In a separate ruling, Cooper said Heisig, who joined Rodrick in defamation lawsuits, willfully refused to comply with court orders by repeatedly failing to show up for depositions.

Rodrick responded last week with a motion seeking to have Cooper removed from the case. He accused her of having a conflict of interest because of her past relationship with lawyers in the case, and he said the judge is biased against people who represent themselves in court.

"Rodrick has initiated an independent query into Judge Cooper's record in matters involving pro per litigants," he wrote. "It is believed the results show an extreme prejudice against him and pro per litigants in general."

For more than a year, Rodrick, 52, of Cave Creek, has denied ownership or control of the websites.

A Call 12 for Action investigation in 2013 found Rodrick's sites mined data compiled by law-enforcement agencies across the country and used it to collect money. Operators of the sites did not always take down profiles after payments were made and launched online harassment campaigns against those who complained.

The investigation found the websites listed individuals as sex offenders who no longer were required to register or whose names had been removed from sex-offender databases. The sites also included names and personal information of people who had never been arrested or convicted of a sex crime.

The websites, including Offendex.com, SORArchives.com and Sexoffenderrecord.com, stopped seeking payments from people in exchange for removing profiles in November after crackdowns on so-called take-down sites by credit-card and Web-based payment-processing companies.

Rodrick, who was convicted on fraud-related charges in the early 1990s, is at the center of several state and two federal lawsuits accusing him of running an online extortion racket. Lawsuits also have been filed against Rodrick's former business associate Brent Oesterblad, who has testified that he set up companies to disguise Rodrick's ownership interest and operated the websites as Rodrick's contract employee.

In May, Cooper ordered everyone involved in the defamation lawsuits to stop posting information on websites about the cases and each other. But Cooper said, in September, Rodrick posted claims suggesting his ex-wife's boyfriend, _____, was a child molester.

_____, a retired U.S. Marine Corps major and president of a real-estate holding company in Phoenix, never has been charged with a crime, records show.

Information Rodrick posted about _____ suggests he "is a child molester; states that he communicates with, aids and abets sex offenders and child molesters; alleges _____ committed sexual harassment and other misconduct in the workplace; and lists _____' employment addresses and professional affiliations," Cooper wrote in her ruling.

_____ called the allegations scurrilous, malicious and untrue.

Cooper said Rodrick violated two court orders, and she imposed several sanctions against him. She said a jury will be instructed that he posted the information about _____ and others and that his violation of court orders "may be relevant to the determination of _____' damages." She also ordered Rodrick to pay some fees for lawyers and a computer specialist hired by _____' legal team.

Cooper sanctioned Rodrick for failing to provide discovery to defendant _____, a convicted sex offender in Washington whose name was removed from official sex-offender registries but remained on the sites controlled by Rodrick. Rodrick sued _____ for defamation after he launched a website accusing Rodrick of extortion.

In her ruling against Heisig, Cooper criticized the court reporter's excuses for failing to show up at scheduled depositions. Heisig told the court she was in danger of losing a client over publicity generated by the case and feared what would happen if she missed an appointment with the client in order to attend her own deposition.

"When the Court denied her request ... she elected not to obey the Court's orders anyway," Cooper wrote.

Cooper ordered Heisig to pay attorney's fees and costs related to the missed deposition and tossed out her claims against defendants in the lawsuits.


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