Posted January 2nd, 2020.
“ROTTEN UNDERBELLY” OF SAN DIEGO SEX INDUSTRY EXPOSED BY COURAGEOUS WOMEN
Read the Proposed Statement of Decision
JANUARY 2, 2020, SAN DIEGO – After a ninety-nine-day bench trial in the case of Jane Doe v. GirlsDoPorn.com, Judge Kevin A. Enright handed down a win and an award of nearly $13 million in compensatory and punitive damages to 22 young women from across the United States who were manipulated, conned and defrauded by Michael J. Pratt, the owner, and Ruben “Andre” Garcia and Matthew Wolfe, operators, of GirlsdoPorn.com. The Court also granted the Plaintiffs all rights to their videos and issued an injunction that the defendants are prohibited from distributing the likenesses, images or videos of the plaintiffs. Further, defendants must remove all of the videos that they’ve produced and posted on the Internet involving the Plaintiffs. The defendants are prohibited from using or disseminating the plaintiffs’ names, likenesses or videos and must take active steps to have this information removed from the Internet. Going forward, the defendants are ordered to be transparent and disclose to any future models the fact of pornography, that it will be posted on the Internet and on free pornography websites, plus any written materials must be sent to the model at least five days before they board the airplane to go to a video shoot.
GirlsDoPorn is a lucrative online pornography enterprise based in San Diego. A similar website featuring videos of older women, MomPOV.com, is co-owned by Pratt and Douglas Wiederhold through Nevada entity Domi Publications, LLC. The 99-day trial began in mid-August and concluded in late November 2019.
Pratt owns the popular adult website GirlsDoPorn.com and other adult websites through a series of shell companies; Garcia acts in and directs pornographic videos featured on the sites; and Wolfe ran many of the daily operations and served as the company’s videographer.
During the course of the civil trial, the three were criminally indicted for sex trafficking, among other charges. Garcia and Wolfe are currently in federal custody. Pratt is a fugitive.
“This outcome is vindication for the many courageous women victimized by GirlsDoPorn, a fraudulent and reprehensible enterprise that thrived on manipulating inexperienced young women,” said , a managing partner at Sanford Heisler Sharp and lead trial counsel.
In addition to Chapin, the 22 female victims are represented by Holm Law Group’s Managing Partner Brian M. Holm, Stokes O’Brien partner John O’Brien, and associate Cara Van Dorn of Sanford Heisler Sharp.
The judge ruled that all defendants’ fraudulent and deceptive activities damaged the young women’s lives, ruling in the women’s favor on their claims of intentional misrepresentation, fraudulent concealment, false promise, misappropriation of name and likeness, unfair and deceptive business practices, and fraudulent transfer.
“After using their multi-million dollar business resources to wage a 3-year war of attrition against innocent victims and their counsel, the reprehensible conduct of the defendants is finally exposed and they have been held accountable,” said Holm.
Each of the twenty-two Jane Does was targeted and exploited after responding to modeling recruitment ads on Craigslist in their local communities in the U.S. or Canada. After submitting pictures of themselves, along with their cell phone numbers and email addresses to sham “modeling” websites, the women were told the job was an “adult gig” for a “legitimate Southern California production company” for which they would be paid some $5,000 per video. When the women asked questions about distribution, the defendants contacted them by phone and promised them that the videos would be released only on DVD and only in foreign countries, never to be seen in America.
The defendants told the women – many of them struggling college students – that their DVDs would be sold in Australia, New Zealand and other countries outside the US, repeatedly assuring them that the videos would never be posted on the Internet or be available in North America.
In fact, the defendants’ business relied entirely upon posting these videos online. Integral to their nefarious scheme were “reference women” – whom the defendants paid to contact prospective models by phone, text, and FaceTime. Several reference women testified that the defendants coached them to reassure young women interested in modeling that the references themselves had previously filmed videos for the defendants, that the modeling videos would be anonymous, and that the videos made for GirlsDoPorn.com would never be posted online.
Young women recruited by this scheme flew to San Diego from their hometowns and colleges believing they would receive several thousand dollars to film anonymous adult videos that would never be released in the US or online. When they arrived in San Diego, they were transported to a hotel room where unknown to them, defendants “graded” them on their age and attractiveness, after which the payment originally promised was often reduced unilaterally. As a former employee of the defendants’ testified at trial, it was not uncommon for a larger figure to be quoted “to get the women on the plane.”
If a woman balked at the revised payment terms, the defendants threatened that if she refused to go through with the video, she would have to reimburse them for the cost of the flight to San Diego and the hotel room and find her own way home.
The defendants also provided some of the women with marijuana and alcohol, despite knowing many were underage, in an effort to lower their resistance to filming a pornographic video. Having flown across the country, alone in a hotel room with at least two men who controlled their return flight, many women felt they had no choice but to accept the lower payment and cooperate in making the video.
According to testimony during the trial, a month or two after filming, videos were posted on the defendants’ subscription websites, with promotional clips of the video uploaded to many other sites including popular free sites like Pornhub.com. The videos quickly spread to plaintiffs’ high school and college classmates, friends, sororities, professors, parents, brothers, church members and others in their lives.
Many women were subsequently ostracized by friends and family, suffered extreme distress, became depressed, and a few even attempted suicide. When they reached out to the defendants to complain, the defendants blocked their phone numbers and had their attorneys contact the women to threaten them with lawsuits.
“Today’s decision is entirely appropriate and fair to the women exploited by Pratt, Garcia, Wolfe and their fraudulent business practices,” said O’Brien. “The defendant’s conduct before and during this trial was despicable. This case should be a call to lawmakers to enact proactive laws preventing this type of exploitation rather than relying on lawsuits such as this to provide justice to victims.”
About Sanford Heisler Sharp
Sanford Heisler Sharp is a national public interest class-action litigation law firm, which has offices in New York, Washington, DC, San Francisco, San Diego, Nashville, and Baltimore. Sanford Heisler Sharp focuses on employment discrimination, wage and hour, qui tam, criminal/sexual violence, and financial services matters. The firm represents select individual clients such as executives, lawyers in employment disputes, and whistleblowers. The firm has recovered over $1 billion for its clients. For more information, call 646-791-4848 or email [email protected]. More information about the firm and its successes can be found at https://sanfordheisler.com/