03/17/2016 Original Post

How far could corporations go to hide negative consumer reviews from being located?  - That is the question. This time they might have gone way too far...

Apparently, some corporations hire shady reputation management companies to file questionable lawsuits with the purpose of getting defamation judgment in their favor.  Once obtained, the judgment gets forwarded to major search engines followed by the removal of allegedly defamatory webpages from search engine index.  We managed to identify two attorneys who have been involved in such a scheme.

So far, we have collected 11 cases filed in the Superior Court of Contra Costa County in the State of California, where a very suspicious plaintiff files a lawsuit for defamation on one or several third party websites.  The lawsuit is filed for a particular Plaintiff, while benefit(removal from search engine) is obtained by another business entity.

Let's do a bit of analysis of the data that is easily available in the cases we were able to pull.

Table below summarizes the data that we have collected, so far:

 

Case # Date of filing Plaintiff Beneficiary Affected Website Defendant Plaintiff’s Attorney
C15-01873 10/13/2015 TALENT CASTING GROUP, INC Premiere Event Ripoffreport.com
Actorsbewafe.wordpress
TYLER THOMPSON, APRIL CERNA Owen T. Mascott
C15-02143 11/18/2015 CTI, INC Central Turf and Irrigation Ripoffreport.com GAIL MUNRO Owen T. Mascott
C15-02144 11/18/2015 MNP, INC Kathy Ireland,
MMP USA
Ripoffreport.com JENNY HUTTON Owen T. Mascott
C15-02211 12/08/2015 CTI PROFESSIONALS, INC Central Turf and Irrigation Ripoffreport.com MIREYA RODRIGUEZ Owen T. Mascott
C16-00011 01/07/2016 HAIR SOLUTIONS, INC Keranique Pissedconsumer.com JOHN RADONICH Owen T. Mascott
C16-00066 01/13/2016 ATP COSMETICS LLC   Complaintsboard.com,
Reddit.com
DARRYL BENJAMIN Owen T. Mascott
C16-00090 01/19/2016 RCP ENTERPRISES N/A Yet   TROY MATTOS Owen T. Mascott
C16-00205 02/02/2016 REPDEFENSE SOLUTIONS, INC. Reputation Defender Pissedconsumer.com
Ripoffreport.com
DEMOIN STROMAN III Owen T Mascott
C16-00319 02/24/2016 MAJESTIC VACATIONS, LLC Bluegreen Resorts Pissedconsumer.com
Ripoffreport.com
ANGELICA LEBRON Mark W. Lapham
C16-00353 02/23/2016 A&D INTERNATIONAL AGORA Financial Pissedconsumer.com TARRA MARTIN Mark W. Lapham
C16-00359 02/26/2016 TOW TEN ENTERPRISES, INC N/A Yet   JASMIN ANDERSON Mark W. Lapham

 

Reputation Defender (a/k/a RepDefense Solutions, Inc.)

 'Reputation defender' is the keyword that used to be very well-ranked on Google for PissedConsumer results until a couple of weeks ago when it was completely de-indexed from Google Search.

Reputation Defender Google Search

When following the Lumen Database link provided by Google (https://www.lumendatabase.org/notices/11944961), you will find a decision in the lawsuit filed on 02/02/2016 by Attorney Owen T. Mascott on behalf of RepDefense Solutions, Inc. against Demoin Stroman III.  On February 10, 2016 The Honorable rendered a decision ordering allegedly defamatory links to be removed from major search engines, including Google:

Here is a couple of very interesting notes regarding this Reputation Defender defamation case, as it relates to PissedConsumer:

The allegedly defamatory statements as presented in the Final Judgment are actually not on the PissedConsumer page that is being removed. Whoever the perpetrators are in this case, their approach was to get Google to de-index the PissedConsumer listing (sub-domain page) for keyword 'Reputation Defender'.

The text shown in paragraph g. above is the only text that can be assumed to be referred to in the case - "they lie" - verbatim text in the review (Review ID 203379) actually says "Reputation Defender lies..." based on the context of the case.  This is only our assumption, since we did not find the exact text on https://reputation-defender.pissedconsumer.com/review.html    The language "Reputation Defender lies..." is actually a part of the review - https://reputation-defender.pissedconsumer.com/reputation-defender-lies-20101019203379.html- that was posted anonymously in 2010.

Now, since it is an anonymous review, let's ask ourselves a question: how did Attorney Mascott find a defendant in this case without subpoenaing PissedConsumer for their identity? Did he just get lucky? How was Demoin Stroman III, the Defendant in this case, was located just one day after the case had been filed; and not only was located, but also managed to almost immediately provide Attorney Mascott with his fully executed Affidavit? Now, if it were a single case, we could say all this was possible. However, when we are looking at 11 (! ELEVEN ) cases in Contra Costa county in California with exactly the same pattern, it “all this” starts looking quite suspicious...

Additionally, if you know your defamer, and this defamer agrees to write a notarized letter to PissedConsumer, there is no need for you to go through Court system.  Unless someones goal is to remove the listing from Google Index that contains all reviews about a particular company.

It seems that the purpose of the lawsuits like the one described above is not to remove a single defamatory review, but to silence all consumers and to take away their ability to voice their opinions about Reputation Defender.

 

 

Bluegreen Resorts (a/k/a MAJESTIC VACATIONS, LLC)

 'Bluegreen Resorts' is yet another keyword that used to be very well-ranked on Google for PissedConsumer results and yet another case that fits the pattern.

https://bluegreen-resorts.pissedconsumer.com/review.html  has 648 reviews posted on PissedConsumer at the time of writing this blog.  The purpose of this lawsuit was to de-index from Google the entire subdomain that would include all of the reviews of all the posters.   By doing a little “googling”, we find that in 2010 Bluegreen Corporation had a run-in with the PA Attorney General Bureau of Consumer Protection  (http://www.pacast.com/press_releases/1272_OAG_BlueGreen_feed.pdf ).

There is one more reason for Bluegreen to try and silence consumer’s voice – it was only 3 month ago that Bluegreen Corporation settled a class-action lawsuit that initially affected 11,000 consumers’ credit scores (https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20151222006023/en/Finn-Law-Group-Settles-Consumer-Class-Action )

So, would a company like this be interested in sweeping any negative reviews on PissedConsumer and other similar sites under the rug?

In this case, the Plaintiff’s business (Majestic Vacations LLC) does not exist in State of California despite Attorney Mark W. Lapham stating in the Complaint that Majestic Vacations is a California company.

California Secretary of States Majestic Vacations

The Final Judgment in this case calls for removal of https://bluegreen-resorts.pissedconsumer.com from Google and other search engines.

Now, can someone explain why did the non-existing Majestic Vacations sue Angelica Lebron for allegedly defamatory statements associated with Bluegreen Resorts?

 

General Case Pattern - Easy 3 Steps Process

General Case Pattern

An attorney files a case on behalf of NON-existent company.

A couple of days later a Defendant surfaces up ready to produce a fully executed affidavit while NO subpoena has issued to the third-party websites.

2 -3 weeks pass, the judge renders the decision and the judgment is sent to Google followed by removal of the links – the case is closed.

 

So, let's take this elaborate pattern apart, shall we:

(i) why would someone file a Complaint on behalf of a fake non-existing Plaintiff;

(ii) since the actual beneficiary in these legal actions can only be identified when looking at the “guilty” URL addresses listed in the Complaint, what is relation between this beneficiary and the Plaintiff – the list of questions can go on and on…

Actually, in the case with RepDefense Solutions, Inc. (Reputation Defender), the Plaintiff’s business does exist in California, but it was created on the same day the lawsuit in question was filed. It may be just a coincidence…

California Secretary of State RepDefense Solutions Inc

Why are Reputation Defender links so special that the general pattern of their particular case was changed to establish an actual company? Or maybe it was just a coincidence – again...  If it is not a coincidence, what kind of standing would a newly formed company have in terms of removal of Reputation Defender links on Google; the links that have existed since 2010?

Why not use real corporate names?

Did the attorney commit fraud in this case?

Does the beneficiary company even know what is being done for them?

We can only speculate here.  It seems that companies themselves do not want to be seen as filers of such lawsuits.  Or, perhaps, the masterminds behind this whole operation want to hide what is being done for their clients.  Hopefully, this pattern will be a point of interest for Attorney Generals and State Bar Associations.

What happens if the pattern somehow does not work

 It seems there might be two most likely scenarios here:

  • Either the judge asked too many questions, or
  • The original Defendant decided to back off

Let's look at two particular cases that we have found:

Case # Date of filing Plaintiff Beneficiary Affected Website Defendant Attorney Filing
C15-02143 11/18/2015 CTI, INC Central Turf and Irrigation Ripoffreport.com GAIL MUNRO Owen T. Mascott
C15-02211 12/08/2015 CTI PROFESSIONALS, INC Central Turf and Irrigation Ripoffreport.com MIREYA RODRIGUEZ Owen T. Mascott

It seems that Mr. Mascott ran into some sort of problems with the CTI, Inc. case. The original case was filed on November 18, 2015 against CTI, Inc., but something went wrong. So, hey, why not file another case, against another Defendant on behalf of a different yet very similar company called CTI Professionals, Inc., while seeking the defamation judgment against same two RipoffReport links as in the original case against CTI, Inc. and conveniently abandon the original case for good?

If this is not an Abuse of Process, you tell me what is...

“But what about the attorneys filing these cases?” – one might ask. Well, there is not much to talk about. Please, see for yourself:

Owen T. Mascott - http://members.calbar.ca.gov/fal/Licensee/Detail/134243

2 suspensions in 2007 and 2009.

Mark Whitney Lapham - http://members.calbar.ca.gov/fal/Licensee/Detail/146352

3 suspensions in 1991, 1994 and 2015.


We have spent a considerable amount of time analyzing the data from the court cases to uncover the dark side of reputation management and to bring it to light. We have spoken to several key players in the industry, and there seems to be a tremendous interest to the issues raised in this article.  We are hoping that other bloggers and journalists will pick up on the research that we have completed so far and take it further.

How much would a Reputation Management Company charge for the services like this?

Who is the mastermind behind this operation?

How many other attorneys and state courts are involved in this scheme?

Will these questions be answered? – That remains to be seen…

References

 

04/01/2016 Update

The story was picked up by several bloggers and news outlets.  Thank you very much to

Paul Alan Levy

TechDirt

Boing Boing

 

Additionally, we have received an email from Google last night with the full reinstatement of the pages in its Search Index.

Google has reinstated in its index the following urls:

http://www.abcactionnews.com/dpp/news/region_tampa/tampa-pharmacist-accused-of-soliciting-sex-from-a-14-year-old-girl-and-her-mother-over-the-internet
www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/crime/state-officials-announce-arrest-of-48-suspected-child-predators/1206404