SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Two owners of Mugshots.com were arrested in South Florida on Thursday, a day after the California Attorney General announced charges against them.
Sahar Sarid and Thomas Keesee were taken into custody by local and state authorities in South Florida. They’re accused of extortion, money laundering, and identity theft.
Kishore Vidya Bhavanie and David Usdan were also arrested this week and are facing similar charges.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement that the four individuals extorted millions of dollars from people across the country by posting their mugshots to a website and charging a fee for the photo’s removal.
CBS13 spoke to Tony Gniadek four years ago when he found his mug shot on a website that tracks mug shots. Gniadek says the company wanted cash to take it down.
“That’s kind of like the bully in the high school telling you, hey I can protect you if you give me some money,” said Gniadek.
Becerra described the company as mining data from law enforcement websites and then publishing the photo and arrest information to their website. In order to have a picture removed, one must make a payment to unpublisharresst.com, which is owned by the same people.
“I think in the neighborhood of $400,” said Gniadek, referring to the amount of money the company wanted for the photo’s removal.
According to the criminal complaint, the owners of Mugshots.com are accused of extorting 175 Californians for more than $64,000 during a three-year period.
One victim from Sonoma County told investigators he was arrested, but never charged. According to his statement, he tried multiple times unsuccessfully to have the photo removed from Mugshots.com. He says he lost job opportunities and even a love interest all because of one photo.
“It’s strictly clearly extortion,” said state Sen. Jerry Hill during a 2014 interview.
The recent investigation dates follow the passing of a California bill authored by Hill, which makes it illegal for companies to profit from mug shots.
“That’s the goal of the bill, to have those websites go out of business because they can’t make any money,” said Hill.
The four men will be extradited to California to face their charges.