Revenge Porn Owner Sentenced to 18 Years for Identity Theft and Extortion (CA Penal Code 530.5 and 518)

Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys were ever asked to deal with a case of its kind, a 28-year-old man who operated a site that allowed disgruntled exes to post embarrassing photographs of their former partners on the web, usually, this meant nude photographs, names, and other personal information.  When he was first arrested in December of 2013, it was difficult to determine what the charges would be, exactly.  Recently, however, he has been found guilty of 21 counts of identity theft and 6 counts of extortion.  So, how were prosecutors able to turn the operation of a ‘revenge porn’ site into identify theft and extortion?  Let’s take a look at the applicable laws.

California identify theft laws (CA Penal Code 530.5) normally apply to the usage of personal information for the purposes of committing fraud.  Typically, this means the theft of credit card information, social security numbers, and the like in order to purchase items and services without permission.  However, the law concerning identity theft is actually far broader.  To be sure, identity theft is most commonly for the purpose listed above, but it can also be used in order to cause emotional, not financial, harm.  Thus, when the photographs were posted online, along with identifying information, they caused emotional harm and, thus, loss of a certain kind.  Penalties for felony identity theft charges can be as high as 3 years in county jail and a $10,000 fine.

Extortion, otherwise known as blackmail, on the other hand (CA Penal Code 518) involves coercing someone to do as you wish them to do under threat of some unwanted consequence.  In the case of revenge porn, you might be wondering how it relates to blackmail, as the photographs are already up for the world to see.  It seems that another, second, site was created, one that offered victims of revenge porn the opportunity to pay a sum (usually $300-$350) in order to have their photographs taken down.  In California, most extortion cases are treated as felonies and penalties can range from 2 to 4 years in county jail and $10,000 in fines.  In the above case, because there were so many different counts, the revenge porn site runner was eventually sentenced to 18 years.