A jewelry company CEO was arrested on Monday and charged with forging court orders in order to de-index negative reviews on Google.
In 2011, sapphire jewelry company CEO Michael Arnstein was desperate to salvage the Google results for his company. According to a lawsuit for defamation he filed in 2011, a former contractor for the Natural Sapphire Company who was fired for selling them buggy software launched a personal crusade to destroy the Natural Sapphire Company's Google search results. The defendant never showed up in court, so in 2012, a federal judge in New York granted Arnstein a default judgment along with an injunction to de-index 54 Google results.
But more fake reviews kept popping up. So Arnstein did something extremely ill-advised. According to the feds, Arnstein rounded up the bad Google results and forged new court orders to send to Google.
Courthouse News reports that Arnstein was arrested on Monday, on two counts of forging a judge's signature and one count of conspiracy. He was released by a magistrate judge on his own recognizance that day, but the three counts each carry a potential five year sentence, so he's not exactly off the hook.
The criminal complaint says that Arnstein wrote in an email in July 2014 that if he "could do it all over again" he would have just found an existing court order online and photoshopped it with the links he wanted removed.
The feds say that that's basically what he did a few months later, sending two different takedowns to Google on October 22 and December 1, for a total of twelve new URLs.
And it worked—Google took down the URLs without any questions.
Although Motherboard could not locate copies of those requests, we were able to find several similar requests on the Lumen database, including ones dated as recently as June 28, 2016, October 31, 2016, and February 10, 2017, all of which seem to have the exact same signature.
The defamation case was closed in 2012, and the docket only lists a single court order dated from 2012.
The criminal complaint also quotes from several emails Arnstein wrote to an employee, directing them to add certain URLs and dates to the court order.
But the really mindboggling part is where Arnstein straight up tells someone via email that he had "photoshop[ped] the documents for future use when new things 'popped up' and google legal never double checked my docs for validity."
"I could have saved 100k and 2 years of waiting/damage if I just used photoshop and a few hours of creative editing," he allegedly wrote. "Lawyers are often worse than the criminals."
Getting bombarded with a negative SEO campaign sucks. Desperation and extreme frustration are pretty understandable reactions. But might we venture to say, forging court orders are a bad idea? We haven't confirmed this, but we're going to go ahead and guess that judges don't look kindly upon people who impersonate them.