Thursday, June 30, 2016
FBI confirms Chuck Rodrick IS under investigation as Rodrick defends himself in court (but fails to actually appear in court)
I'm not happy the judge didn't allow the lawsuits by those actually on the registry to continue, as if to say it is perfectly okay to harass a registered citizen. But at least THIS lawsuit is ongoing. Plus, the FBI has confirmed it is investigating Chuck Rodrick.
Phoenix website owner's attorney denies harassment claims in federal court trial
Robert Anglen, The Republic | azcentral.com 12:56 p.m. MST June 29, 2016
An attorney for a businessman accused of using multiple websites for internet harassment is arguing in court that his client did nothing wrong and that his online activity was protected by federal law.
Charles "Chuck" Rodrick was not in U.S. District Court in Phoenix when lawyers made opening statements to a jury.
The civil case started three years ago with allegations Rodrick used websites to demand money and target people for harassment. The sites' stated purpose was to list people identified as sex offenders, but plaintiffs claimed Rodrick had used the sites to target them for harassment when they were not required to be registered as sex offenders.
Defense attorney Michael Harnden said evidence would show Rodrick, on three sites he operated focusing on sex-offender information, never falsely identified any of the plaintiffs as registered sex offenders or falsely claimed they were required to register as a sex offender.
He said Rodrick had immunity from lawsuits because the information posted on the sex-offender websites came from third parties and he was just republishing "freely available information" similar to any news site.
"(Plaintiffs) do not have a single piece of proof to back up any of their claims," Harnden told the jury Tuesday, adding: "My client's character, reputation and his businesses are not on trial here."
Lawyers for the plaintiffs tried to make Rodrick's business and reputation the centerpiece of their case, saying he used the websites to post untrue allegations, including infidelity, fraud, implied sex offenses and criminal activity.
California lawyer Janice Bellucci said this was a case about a man who uses the internet to make "accusations he can't back up" and who uses his websites to publish false and malicious information about his victims.
Rodrick is being sued by three people who say they were profiled on his websites even though they were not convicted of sex crimes. In their lawsuit, they accused him of extortion and of using his websites to put victims in a false light, invade privacy and to intentionally inflict emotional damage.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has confirmed that Rodrick, 55, is under investigation for his Web-based activities.
Rodrick also owes about $2 million in unpaid court judgments to three people he unsuccessfully attempted to sue in 2014, including two of the plaintiffs in the federal case.
Lawsuit evolved over 3 years
The federal court case has changed dramatically since it was filed in 2013, with the focus going from claims by sex offenders who argued they were unlawfully targeted by Rodrick to questions about whether Rodrick used his websites to launch personal attacks and disseminate false information.
The lawsuit originally was filed on behalf of 10 people who said Rodrick used government records to create his own database and demand money to remove the records under the threat of increased exposure.
Some claimed their names appeared on Rodrick's websites long after their names had been removed from official sex-offender registries. Others said their names remained on Rodrick's websites after they paid him a removal fee.
A judge last year dismissed claims filed by several plaintiffs who were sex offenders, saying Rodrick was protected from liability under federal law because he was republishing information from official records and not creating original content.
U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton said those plaintiffs could not prove Rodrick was "responsible for the development or creation of information" on his websites despite his demands for money for records removal.
Bolton, however, refused to dismiss claims filed by plaintiffs who "have never registered as sex offenders or been convicted of a sex-related offense."
The three plaintiffs include a retired U.S. Marine Corps major who never has been arrested or charged with a crime; the mother of a sex offender in Washington state who launched his own website to challenge Rodrick in 2013; and a man who was arrested on a sex-related charge years ago but who says he was not classified as a sex offender or required to register as one.
"The court could reasonably conclude that defendant created a portion of his websites’ content by adding the personal information of those plaintiffs not listed on preexisting sex offender registries and misidentifying them as individuals who have been convicted of a sex-related offense," Bolton wrote last year.
Plaintiffs claim misstatements, damage
Bellucci, who works for the non-profit California Reform Sex Offender Laws, said each of the plaintiffs has suffered damage as a result of Rodrick's websites.
David Ellis, who served 26 years in the U.S. Marines and is now president of a Phoenix aerospace company, testified that after he he began dating Rodrick's ex-wife, his name appeared on sex-offender websites owned by Rodrick.
He said Rodrick launched a campaign beginning in 2013 that is still ongoing. Ellis said he was identified on several sex-offender sites and that Rodrick accused him of infidelity, entertaining young boys at his apartment and falsely claiming his brother was a murderer and a heroin addict.
Ellis said Rodrick last year sent complaints to the Department of Defense calling for an investigation of Ellis' company, American Aerospace Technical Castings in Phoenix, claiming that Ellis manufactured faulty airline parts for commercial and military airplanes and falsified test results.
Ellis said there were several federal and private investigations of his firm, including the Department of Defense and the Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which cleared him of the charges.
Harnden said Rodrick was simply a conduit for a whistleblower at Ellis' company and as such was just forwarding a complaint to the government. Ellis countered that Rodrick paid the so-called whistleblower, a former employee, and used the information to accuse Ellis of fraud.
Harnden contended that Ellis thrust himself into Rodrick's operation by giving information about Rodrick to sex offenders. Ellis said he first got involved after Rodrick's ex-wife came to him for help in 2012. He said he investigated Rodrick's websites and discovered that Rodrick was demanding money to have records removed from the site.
He said sex offenders had posted the name and address of Rodrick's ex-wife and children online and he helped to get that information removed by offering them information on Rodrick's current whereabouts.
Superior Court case covered similar ground
The issues in the federal trial are similar to those raised in Maricopa County Superior Court in a case in which Rodrick sued several people, including Ellis, who publicly decried his websites.
A judge in the case, heard in 2014, declared Rodrick the defendant in his own defamation lawsuits and allowed counterclaims against him 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.
A jury found Rodrick defamed three victims, invaded their privacy, put them in a false light and abused the court system by filing lawsuits against them as a form of retaliation.
'Republic' investigation spotlighted Rodrick
Rodrick's original websites, Offendex.com and SORArchives.com, originally claimed to profile the records of 750,000 sex offenders in the United States.
An investigation by The Arizona Republic 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 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 email addresses and posted photographs of their relatives.
In court filings and elsewhere, Rodrick repeatedly denied ownership of the websites.
Rodrick's former partner, Brent Oesterblad, testified in 2014 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 were convicted on unrelated fraud-related charges in the early 1990s.
FBI investigation underway
The FBI has been investigating Rodrick for more than a year over his Web activities, and his former attorney has spoken out against him.
Federal agents have provided letters confirming the investigation to Ellis and others profiled on Rodrick's websites.
"You have been identified as a victim of the activities conducted by Charles Rodrick," the letter states. "The current investigation has revealed a number of victims and is ongoing."
In addition to the sex-offender websites, Harnden said Rodrick operates websites such as Courtkey.com and Barcomplaint.com, which include references to several people involved in his cases.
Under the headings, "sex offenders ... bad lawyers ... corruption," and "lies ... conspiracy ... news media fraud ... theft," Rodrick's Courtkey.com site promises to expose the truth.
Rodrick's former lawyer in the federal case also has accused Rodrick of trying to extort free legal services and of lying to the court.
Daniel Warner, who has been called as a witness in the federal case and testified Wednesday, said Rodrick filed a complaint with the State Bar of Arizona alleging misconduct after Warner withdrew from the case.
Rodrick accused Warner of violating several professional rules, including fraudulent billing, conflict of interest and revealing privileged attorney-client information through an article on the firm's blog last year with the headline, "Two men, one extortion racket website?"
Warner, in a denial letter to the State Bar, said the blog was a mistake by a contract employee and went on to detail emails and statements about Rodrick's false claims. Although most attorney-client communication is protected under law, the privilege was waived so Warner could respond to the allegations.
Warner said Rodrick made false statements about his ownership of the website and his past and continued to violate court orders.
The bar dismissed Rodrick's complaint against Warner in January.