By Robert Anglen
Victims targeted for harassment on sex-offender websites pleaded with a Maricopa County jury to financially punish the owner and take away his ability to continue operating.
On Wednesday, the jury listened.
In a unanimous verdict, jurors hit Valley businessman Charles "Chuck" Rodrick with a $3.4 million judgment on behalf of three people profiled on websites such as Offendex.com, SORArchives and SexOffenderrecord.com.
Rodrick is accused of running an Internet extortion racket that used public records maintained by law enforcement to demand money from sex offenders, harassing those who complained.
The jury awarded victims almost $500,000 in actual damages and $2.9 million in punitive damages, agreeing Rodrick defamed them, invaded their privacy, put them in a false light and abused the court system by filing lawsuits against them as a form of retaliation.
The decision came after the court last week declared Rodrick the defendant in defamation lawsuits he filed more than a year ago against those who publicly decried the websites, including his ex-wife, her boyfriend, a convicted sex offender from Washington and the offender's mother.
Superior Court Judge Douglas Gerlach also allowed several of the victims' counterclaims against Rodrick to go forward, reversing the roles of the defendants and making them plaintiffs. The move effectively put Rodrick in the position of defending himself in his own case.
Rodrick, 52, of Cave Creek, appeared unperturbed by the separate verdicts. The court clerk had barely finished reading the judgments when Rodrick leaned sideways in his chair and called out to the opposing parties with a promise to appeal.
"Well, gentlemen, you know the drill," he said in a loud, mirthful voice.
Rodrick, who for more than a year has refused to discuss his websites, declined comment after court Wednesday.
His victims said they were elated by the decision.
"I am super glad justice has been served," Phoenix resident David Ellis said following the trial. "I did ask (the jury) to make their verdict significant enough to keep him from ever climbing out of his hole, and they did."
Ellis said he was targeted after he began dating Rodrick's ex-wife while the couple were going through an acrimonious divorce. Court records show Rodrick posted information on several websites suggesting Ellis, a decorated combat veteran with no criminal record, was a child molester.
Ellis, who is co-owner of an airplane-parts manufacturing company in Phoenix called American Aerospace Technical Castings, said Rodrick posted false information accusing his company of making shoddy equipment. Ellis said Rodrick also accused him of workplace sexual harassment.
"It's kind of a shame. I fought for people's civil rights," Ellis said. "Then this guy, he used the First Amendment to attack me."
Rodrick's ex-wife, Lois Flynn of Chandler, said she felt vindicated. Rodrick's websites accused her of having an adulterous relationship, being an alcoholic and working with child molesters who sought to discredit the websites.
Flynn said the Internet postings damaged her reputation and affected her relationships at church, where she once worked with kids.
"In church Sunday, if anyone looks at me sideways, I can hold up the judgment and say I have been judged the right way," she said.
The jury awarded Ellis almost $2.2 million. It awarded Flynn $780,000. It also gave $467,000 to Susan Galvez, the mother of a convicted sex offender in Washington sued by Rodrick after her son launched an Internet campaign challenging Rodrick's websites.
In court, Galvez called Rodrick a "bad man." Her son, pleaded guilty to child molestation in 1996. The jury did not award him any damages, dismissing his claims against Rodrick.
_____ said he considered his mother's win a victory for the family. He said he felt vindicated the moment the judge declared him a plaintiff and he no longer faced the threat of Rodrick's lawsuit.
"I had nothing to lose," he said. "The jury did what was right. If they had gotten the time to get to know who I am, they probably would have ruled differently."
Galvez said he was putting his life back together in 2012 when he discovered his profile on Offendex.com. When Galvez refused to pay to have his name removed and began complaining publicly, he said, operators retaliated against him.
Galvez said he launched his own site, Offendextortion.com, as a way to fight back. He said Rodrick sued his mother as a way to get at him.
Galvez said two jurors told him after the trial that his conviction and background made it hard for them to award him damages. But he said they both wished him well.
None of the eight jurors on Wednesday commented on the case.
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 from sex offenders. Operators did not always take down profiles after payments were made, and they launched online harassment campaigns against those who balked at financial demands or filed complaints.
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 included names and personal information of people who had never been arrested or convicted of a sex crime.
The Internet-savvy operators ensured anyone in their databases could be found easily on a Google search. They prominently profiled specific individuals, published their home and e-mail addresses, posted photographs of their relatives and copied their Facebook friends onto the offender websites.
In court filings, Rodrick repeatedly denied owning the websites.
In March, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge found Rodrick controlled the websites, owned the domain names and was the only person capable of posting and removing information on the sites.
The judge sanctioned Rodrick for violating court orders and for failing to take down posts about Ellis, Flynn and the Galvezes.
The judge also sanctioned Rodrick's girlfriend Traci Heisig, a court reporter and owner of Desert Hills Reporting in Phoenix. The judge said Heisig, who joined Rodrick in defamation lawsuits, willfully refused to comply with court orders.
After she and Rodrick were declared defendants, Heisig was dismissed from the case.
Rodrick's former partner, Brent Oesterblad, testified that he helped disguise Rodrick's ownership interest by opening bank accounts and filing corporation papers for him. He said Rodrick further hid his role by registering website domain names in foreign countries and running them through proxy servers. His claims were backed by court and financial records.
Rodrick and Oesterblad, both of whom were convicted on fraud-related charges in the early 1990s, were at the center of state and federal lawsuits. Sex offenders and others named on the websites have accused them of running an extortion racket. Rodrick and Oesterblad are also accused of posting inaccurate or old information and using the threat of exposure as leverage in their operation.
Lawyers for Ellis, Flynn and the Galvezes credited Oesterblad with coming forward and providing crucial financial and operational data about the websites. They described his testimony as articulate and truthful. Claims filed against him in the Maricopa County case were dropped.
Rodrick, who represented himself in court, painted himself as a victim.
"It's not easy to be a defendant when you were the plaintiff," he said in a rambling closing argument Wednesday in which he denied ownership of the websites, argued about the amount of money they generated and complained about various court rulings.
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