"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.

Last 5 posts by Ken White

Comments

  1. says

    I reserve the right to be disappointed. If this is an FTC investigation…. my layman's take over the years is that: 1) due process will be right out the window (and if you won't even give the guilty due process, it's so much easier to deny it to the innocent), 2) it'll be a great thing for the FTC, and 3) the actual people harmed will get squat.

  2. Michael says

    If it leads to an investigation by the US Attorney's office, then the actual people harmed will likely get to see Craig Brittain in a prison lumpsuit. That would be something.

  3. says

    I'm glad to hear that a douchebag may get found guilty and then punished.

    …but this bugs me:

    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.

    Why is she anonymous?

    Because she's breaking regulations at the least, and laws at the worst.

    She's violating the rights of a man who has not yet been found guilty and dishing about him in the media. …and she's reserving for herself all the anonymity that she's not giving him.

    She is, in short, a hypocrite.

    Even as a kid I thought that perp walks were terrible things. I'd been assured by adults that everyone is innocent until proven guilty…and yet all the state has to do is make an allegation and then the individuals who make up the state then feel free to start treating someone as a second class citizen.

    Have a trial, and if he's guilty, THEN the state should treat him like he's guilty.

  4. says

    TJIC, I only agree in part. Her calling and asking for information is appropriate. The characterizations in the second paragraph arguably are not.

  5. says

    Actually, I misread that – I thought that CBS4 had called the feds looking for juice details and the feds had spilled.

    Reading it over now, yes, I think it's entirely appropriate for a government prosecutor to ask if a private party has useful details that they're willing to share.

    So: I stand by my GENERAL rant, but I was entirely wrong in the particulars here.

  6. says

    So: I stand by my GENERAL rant, but I was entirely wrong in the particulars here.

    Do you have that on a macro?

  7. Kevin says

    So, as a non-lawyer, can someone clarify for me, why is it that it takes so long for criminal prosecution to materialize in a case like this? I mean, what's stopping a prosecutor from filing charges today?

    I understand that the system is slow, and I'm not criticizing, I'm just curious about why it is that way.

  8. a_random_guy says

    The fact that the wheels grind slowly in an injustice all its own. Guilty parties are able to put off reckoning for years, sometimes decades. Their victims have years, sometimes decades of their lives where they cannot put the problems behind themselves. Restitution, if any is forthcoming, is late at best and almost certainly inadequate to compensate them for the lost time. It might actually be better for the victims if the case ended with an unjust result, as opposed to dragging on, and on, and on.

    If the accused are innocent, the problem is worse, because the legal system has now eaten the lives of people on both sides of the case. The only winners are the attorneys on all sides, who have collected years of fees.

    The law is complex. Nonetheless, I am of the opinion that a case that cannot be brought to a close within a year should be dismissed with prejudice. If this is not possible, then the system is fundamentally broken. Which means: The system is, in fact, fundamentally broken.

  9. John David Galt says

    This seems to me yet another "Skokie case" — a case where one must (or at least I do) hope the bad guys escape their just deserts, because if they lose, it creates or extends a precedent that lets the feds take due process away from everybody.

  10. says

    I stand by my GENERAL rant, but I was entirely wrong in the particulars here.

    Do you have that on a macro?

    As it turns out, I do.

  11. Colin says

    This seems to me yet another "Skokie case" — a case where one must (or at least I do) hope the bad guys escape their just deserts, because if they lose, it creates or extends a precedent that lets the feds take due process away from everybody.

    Don't you just hate it when that happens? It's like "Vote for the crook, it's important".

  12. Pau Amma says

    One has to wonder whether there's any connection between those scumbags and another blackmail site called i-n-c-a-u-t-i-o-u-s dot o-r-g (only less dashing).

  13. AlphaCentauri says

    Tor, does your video have anything to do with this discussion or are you just spamming forums to promote your lame video?

  14. says

    Kevin – When they do it right it is almost like a dance. First the FTC files suit, using the much broader discovery available in a civil action. For example, it will take the defendants' depositions, something you couldn't do in a criminal case.

    Then, after the discovery is done, the criminal indictment is handed down and the FTC's civil suit gets stayed. Now the defendants, under threat of really big sentences if they don't knuckle under (and the always pleasant threat of a superseding indictment charging money laundering), plead guilty.

    Then the FTC comes back in, looks at the judgment in the criminal case, and cries "res judicata, we win."

  15. C. S. P. Schofield says

    Kevin,

    Any system which limits the power of The State to 'get things done' moves slowly, and that's a good thing. An efficient government is an authentic menace to life and limb.

  16. Kevin says

    @C.S.P Schofield Well, wouldn't it be better if the government was highly efficient, just also highly constrained it what it was allowed to be efficient at doing? I mean, if the feds stopped wasting time and taxpayer money prosecuting the drug war and other anti-libertarianisms, and instead focused their resources on prosecuting cases like this where there are actual victims, it seems like it could be both efficient and liberty-preserving.