EDITORIAL: The Creeping Creepiness Of Jeremy Johnson — And The Use Of Google Ads As A Weapon Of Abuse Against Public Officials And Court-Appointed Receivers In Performance Of Their Duties

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story originally was published Jan. 4, 2012, 3:32 p.m. It was updated at 9:59 p.m. on the same date. The PP Blog temporarily “unpublished” the story on March 23, 2012. Explanation of why it was taken offline temporarily is here. On March 23, 2012, the PP Blog’s security software recorded a “mass injection attack” as the Blog visited a domain styled CollotGuerard.com while researching matters pertaining to Jeremy Johnson. Collot Guerard is an attorney for the FTC and an alleged subject of harassment by Johnson or people close to Johnson because of the FTC actions against Johnson. The PPBlog is not revisiting the CollotGuerard.com domain and believes it is imprudent for readers to visit the domain.

Our Jan. 4, 2012, story, with the original introductory editor’s note, is republished below. The republication date is Jan. 15, 2013 . . .

EDITOR’S NOTE: In this January 2011 column on the concept of “fraud creep,” the PP Blog explained that law enforcement is counting victims of web-based scams by the tens of thousands.  The numbers are truly alarming, and the investigative and logistical challenges of unraveling a fraud scheme that may fuel itself by tapping into thousands of bank or payment accounts are unprecedented. In some individual cases, victims’ losses have been counted in the tens of millions — if not the hundreds of millions — of dollars. The Blog suggested a principal definition for the ever-expanding phenomenon of “fraud creep” and four associated definitions, including this one:

“A form of deceit (fraud-creep plan) employed by hucksters, particularly on the Internet, characterized by efforts to popularize an illicit pursuit by withholding critical information and demonizing market regulators. Profits are reaped by tapping into disillusionment and despair and creating a bogeyman or figure of blame to rationalize participation in a dubious or illegal enterprise. The bogeyman or figure of blame often may be the government, a branch of government, a law-enforcement or regulatory agency or government employee.”

In the editorial below, the PP Blog reports that public servants have good reason to worry that their good names and the good work they do in pursuit of justice for victims are endangered as “fraud creep” continues to evolve. Indeed,  the creepiest part of the Internet is further winnowing the already-thin blue line of defense against scams and scammers.

“[A] party’s bad faith use of an Internet domain incorporating, without permission, the name of another party is not only misleading, but may bring extremely harmful consequences for the abused party . . . There is simply no legitimate reason for Johnson to use domains and e-mails carrying the names of FTC attorneys. Johnson is not seeking legitimate outlets for his views, but merely continues his pattern of deceit and harassment and is attempting to interfere with legitimate government business via illegitimate means.”Federal Trade Commission, in emergency filing in the Jeremy Johnson/IWorks case, Dec. 15, 2011

UPDATED 9:59 P.M. ET (U.S.A.) Jeremy Johnson, IWorks Inc. and dozens of shell companies were implicated by the FTC in an alleged fraud scheme involving hundreds of millions of dollars. Johnson, 35, of St. George, Utah, denies wrongdoing. The case was filed in U.S. District Court in Nevada in December 2010. Elements of the case have devolved into what Johnson is disingenuously positioning as a battle to maintain his right to free speech.

Collot Guerard, a Washington-based FTC attorney, career public servant and member of the District of Columbia Bar since 1973, is among a number of law-enforcement officials involved in the case. What she was subjected to is nothing short of chilling and disgraceful — and, as you’ll see below, Google and other companies had a chance to profit from the creepy attack on Guerard.

Screen shot: Until this morning, Google was publishing this ad, which planted the seed that longtime FTC staff attorney Collot Guerard is “corrupt.” Precisely who placed the ad and how it was paid for are unclear. Another ad on Google’s network planted the seed that Robb Evans, the court-appointed receiver in the Jeremy Johnson/IWorks case, is a fraudster. The ad that used the receiver’s name also has gone missing.

As a preliminary matter, the Blog is reporting today that ads displayed on Google that attacked Guerard and Robb Evans, the court-appointed receiver in the Johnson/IWorks case, appear to have gone missing this morning after having been published around the clock for days. For now, at least, the damage appears to have been contained — but the mere fact it presented itself in the first place is a matter for great introspection. No public official can feel secure in this environment. If attacks against them are condoned, then no member of the public can have confidence in his or her own safety.

As another preliminary matter, the Blog is reporting that certain domains allegedly used to attack Guerard and Evans appear to have been disabled this afternoon. The how and why are not immediately clear. (UPDATE 9:59 P.M.: The domains appear to have been reenabled.)

FTC Files Emergency Motion

In little-noticed emergency court filings in federal court in Nevada last month, the FTC advised Chief U.S. District Judge Roger L. Hunt that it issued a subpoena to Web.com Group Inc., a Florida-based domain-name registrar. Through the subpoena, the agency learned that Utah-based Johnson “purchased and gained control over” CollotGuerard.com, according to the FTC’s emergency filing.

Johnson’s aim was to use the domain to harass Guerard, according to the FTC filing. The agency also said “Johnson and others working with him purchased and/or gained control over the Internet domains and websites” titled RonnieBrooke.com and JaniceKopec.com. In supplemental filings yesterday, the agency alleged that Kevin Pilon, a Johnson/IWorks co-defendant, purchased the Brooke and Kopec domains.

Brooke and Kopec also are FTC attorneys involved in  the Johnson/IWorks case.

If the FTC’s allegations are true, the events involving Johnson and Pilon are almost indescribably creepy. Indeed, taxpayers and fraud victims may have good reason to be totally creeped out, given that Johnson and Pilon allegedly registered at least three domains in the names of public officials and have (or may have) a corresponding ability to create email addresses in their names.

Johnson, according to the FTC, also spent $525.60 at BlueHost to purchase 24 domains in a single order on Dec. 3. Many of the domains use the FTC’s name. Here is a sampling:

  • FTCExtortion.com
  • FTCCorruption.com
  • FTCHatesBusiness.com
  • FTCgov.net
  • FTCScam.com

There are at least 19 more, according to the FTC, noting that it issued a subpoena to FastDomains.com Inc., a BlueHost sister company, to glean the information. The agency also said Andy Johnson, who is Jeremy Johnson’s brother and another co-defendant in the Johnson/IWorks case, registered domains that used the FTC’s name and the name of Evans, the court-appointed receiver.

Screen shot: Part of Jeremy Johnson’s domain-name lineup, as taken from an FTC filing yesterday.

In its filings, the FTC is stressing that it is not attempting to to stifle any defendant’s right to free speech. Instead, the FTC is asking Hunt to enjoin “Jeremy Johnson . . . and those working in concert with him from deceptively using domain names, websites, and Facebook and Twitter pages that either expressly or impliedly claim to be associated with the FTC or FTC attorneys.”

An attorney for Evans has filed a similar motion. Hunt is scheduled to hear arguments tomorrow.

The slippery slope in all of this is that the adjudication of fraud cases nationwide and restitution to victims could be delayed as agencies and judges are forced to address Internet side shows orchestrated by defendants. Such side shows inevitably will affect judicial economy and increase costs to taxpayers, while potentially creating a condition in which individual public servants will have to hire private counsel, file harassment reports with local police, ask police in their local jurisdictions to provide extra patrols of their homes and neighborhoods and change their phone numbers.

Another potential outcome is that victims of fraud schemes will lose hope as they witness agencies and employees that are supposed to protect them becoming bogged down by an ever-expanding series of harassment campaigns on the web. If Jeremy Johnson’s alleged misdeeds aimed at Guerard and potentially infecting others proves anything, it’s that the thin blue line guarding society can be made thinner . . . and thinner . . . and thinner on the Internet.

Make no mistake: This is a horror show in slow motion that is hiding behind the 1st Amendment.

Public servants at all levels have valid reasons if they’re suddenly feeling demoralized and totally creeped out. If the alleged Johnson practice of harassing public servants online and declaring it a 1st Amendment right is permitted to stand, any employee from any conceivable branch of government is at risk of having his or name appropriated as part of a strategic harassment campaign. As things stand, if a defendant in any conceivable dispute can gain access to a registrar and provide a way to pay for a domain name, he or she apparently will have little trouble starting a harassment campaign.

And if a defendant has access to a Google AdWords account, he or she can use the account to place an ad that plants the seed that the public employee and object of their loathing is a fraud.

No, creepy does not even begin to describe the harassment campaign to which Guerard and Evans have been subjected.  Johnson and his alleged helpers should be ashamed. Judge Hunt should order domains used as harassment tools taken offline.

Creeps Are Limited Only By Their Imaginations

Unhappy about that speeding ticket and given to behaving like a creep? As things stand today, it appears you’ll have little trouble acquiring a domain in the name of state trooper and waging an electronic war against her. Perturbed because you got caught parking in front of a fire hydrant? If you’re given to being a creep or can’t make the calculation that there are differences between free speech and cyberstalking, apparently there are very few obstacles between you and sliming the cop through a domain that uses his name.

Behind on your child support and so blinded by contempt for your ex that you cannot recognize or cannot contain your own creepiness? Little is stopping you from sliming the domestic-relations officer. Found guilty by a judge at any court level? As a creep-in-waiting, all that stands between you and your revenge campaign are an easy-to-obtain domain registration and your ability to showcase your advancing madness by publishing slime.

Seeing red because Juror No. 6, a grandmother living on Social Security, sided with 11 other jurors and found you guilty of breaking into your neighbor’s home last Christmas, stealing his 40-inch LCD television and selling it for crack money? If the alleged Johnson model is permitted to stand, you can taunt Grandma and her fellow jurors by registering domains in their names — and then you can use your creepy intelligence to smear them.

If you’re inclined to be a creep, that is.

If readers are not already sufficiently creeped out, they should consider this:

One FTC official who has interacted with Johnson in the case and knows about the domains bearing the names of his agency colleagues appears to have preemptively registered a domain in his own name, possibly to prevent Johnson and/or his sympathizers from doing the same thing.

If that’s what happened, it is a perfectly rational response — but one that demonstrates just how vulnerable public servants are to attack. Any creep can start one at any time.

Johnson himself, according to the FTC, advised the FTC employee in an email that other government employees might be wise to buy their own dot.coms.

“I noticed that you purchased [DotanWeinman.com] yesterday [Dec. 12] and you certainly could have purchased the other domains earlier if you did not wish for them to be used by others,” Johnson allegedly wrote to FTC staff attorney Dotan Weinman.

Johnson did not say in the email how he happened to notice Weinman had purchased DotanWeinman.com, which leads to questions about whether Johnson himself had been thinking about adding a Weinman domain to his harassment stable.

That’s creepy, to be sure.

 

About the Author

One Response to “EDITORIAL: The Creeping Creepiness Of Jeremy Johnson — And The Use Of Google Ads As A Weapon Of Abuse Against Public Officials And Court-Appointed Receivers In Performance Of Their Duties”

Leave a Reply