"Is Anybody Down" Update: The Wheels Grind Slowly, But They Grind
Late last year I wrote about the vile humiliation-porn and extortion website "Is Anybody Down?" and its thoroughly creepy and sociopathic founders Craig Brittain and Chance Trahan. I wrote about how they engaged in a mail and wire fraud scheme by inventing a fake lawyer "David Blade III" to whom victims could pay to have their pictures and information taken down, and how Craig Brittain — who fancies himself a champion of free speech — tried to abuse the DMCA to get posts about him taken down. My posts on the subject are collected here.
I haven't written about them since them, but they've remained in the news. Adam Steinbaugh has been doing good work keeping track of them. Craig Brittain has been on a sort of national douchebag tour, showing up on blogs all over and television and newspapers. Trahan, by contrast, has been trying to distance himself from the whole enterprise and, so far as I can tell, set up a "not competent to stand trial" strategy. Civil and criminal disputes are generally not settled by freestyle rap battles.
Some have been frustrated by the fact that, aside from infamy and the ugly reality of living every day as themselves, Brittain and Trahan seem to have escaped consequences to date. People frustrated by that aren't used to the law's delay. The wheels grind slowly, but my friends, they do grind.
Civil attorneys are gathering and interacting with victims. Meanwhile, CBS Denver reports that the federal government has taken an interest.
Last week, a staff attorney for the federal agency contacted CBS4 with numerous questions about the CBS4 investigation. She characterized the inquiry as a “preliminary investigation” and asked that her name and agency not be revealed until a decision had been made on whether to go forward with a full blown federal investigation.
. . . .
“It’s not good for him,” she said of her agency’s interest in Brittain’s Internet activities. She said if her agency presses forward, they would likely seek “injunctive relief” to take down the website, but she conceded that would likely take months.
From that information, based on my experience, I suspect that the agency in question is the Federal Trade Commission. You might be disappointed that it's not a local United States Attorney's Office pursuing criminal charges. Don't be. First of all, a civil suit by the FTC is often the vanguard of a later criminal investigation by the local U.S. Attorney's Office. Second — and this is a Very Bad Thing not just for Brittain and Trahan, but for American justice — FTC lawsuits tend to yield the most grotesque parody of due process you're likely to see in a federal civil proceeding. As I've said before, I haven't seen any criminal clients — even ones accused of terrible things — screwed the way people targeted by the FTC get screwed. Typical consequences include draconian preliminary injunctions issued based on half-assed government requests, global asset freezes, and offensively perfunctory proceedings. Plus, federal and state criminal authorities wait in the wings to glean what they can from the information produced in the case.
So: the wheels are grinding. Watch them grind. Do Brittain and Trahan "deserve" it? Everyone accused of wrongdoing deserves due process. But in deciding how to feel about this, consider Adam Steinbaugh's latest post, in which he examines the allegations in a restraining order proceeding against Brittain back in 2005:
According to records provided by a Colorado court, Brittain’s ex-girlfriend (who I am not naming) alleged that after she broke up with him online, Brittain took control of one of her Yahoo accounts and began posting her phone number and address in a chat room, suggesting sexual acts. At about 7 in the morning, a man Brittain’s ex did not know, identifying himself as “Nate,” showed up at her door. ”Nate” explained that he had talked with someone he thought was Brittain’s ex-girlfriend an hour earlier. Presumably, “Nate” was not there to have breakfast.
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