Bogus Lawsuit-Slinging Rep Management Firm Sued By Pissed Consumer

from the if-you-can't-do-it-right,-why-not-do-it-fraudulently? dept

Solvera -- a reputation management firm allegedly engaging in legal fraud to delist criticism -- is facing multiple legal problems as a result of its highly-questionable services. In late August, the Texas Attorney General filed a complaint against the company, alleging it defrauded courts by filing bogus defamation lawsuits on behalf of possibly-unaware clients, utilizing duped lawyers with bogus statements from fake defendants.

This sort of behavior has been uncovered in recent months through investigations by Paul Alan Levy of Public Citizen and lawprof/blogger Eugene Volokh. It has also been revealed through independent research by Pissed Consumer, an obvious target of these unsavory (and illegal) reputation management tactics.

Pissed Consumer is also going against Solvera. It has sued the company in Contra Costa County, California -- Solvera's backyard -- along with a number of other firms in the reputation management business and the companies they've created to act as plaintiffs in bogus defamation lawsuits.

It's pretty much identical to the lawsuit Pissed Consumer filed last year against a number of defendants, including the lawyers whose name appeared on the bogus paperwork: Mark Lapham and Owen Mascott. The previous lawsuit referenced Nevada Corporate Headquarters -- the apparent origin point of some of these bogus lawsuits -- but the latest adds Solvera as a defendant.

It also places much of the alleged blame on the embattled rep management firm. From the filing [PDF]:

Plaintiff is informed and believes and based thereon alleges that Defendant Solvera Group, Inc. (“Solvera”) is a California corporation incorporated under the laws of California, and orchestrated some or all of these schemes of fake litigation to remove consumer reviews.

The allegations are repeated numerous times, thanks to the long list of defendants. But here's one rundown of the rep management scam, apparently involving Solvera and the two California lawyers.

Plaintiff is informed and believes and based thereon alleges that Defendant Solvera or Doe Corporation, operating as a reputation management company, conceived of the plan and organized the cooperation of Hair Solutions, Radonich, and Owen T. Mascott to bring the plan to fruition.

Since September 2010, at least 949 individuals have posted complaints about Keranique on PissedConsumer.com. Additionally, numerous comments have been posted by third parties in response to those complaints. The majority of the comments have been negative.

Plaintiff is informed and believes and based thereon alleges that at the bequest of Defendant Solvera or Doe Corporation and with the full cooperation of Defendant Radonich, Mr. Mascott filed a complaint on behalf of Hair Solutions against Radonich for defamation.

In the underlying action the conspirators sought only injunctive relief. Specifically, the complaint requested an injunction that Radonich be “ordered to take all action, including but not limited to, requesting removal from the Internet search engines including Google, Yahoo!, and Bing of all defamatory, disparaging, libelous, and false statements about Plaintiff that Defendant has posted on the Internet.”

Mr. Mascott filed the Complaint on January 7, 2016. On information and belief, at all relevant times Mascott knew that Radonich was not the author of the statements at issue in the Radonich Case, and thus was not a proper defendant in that case.

Shortly thereafter, on January 13, 2016, Mascott filed a Stipulation for Final Judgment and Permanent Injunction with the Superior Court, containing a jurat from Radonich dated January 9, 2016. (See Exhibit 5.) On information and belief, Mascott coordinated with Radonich as Radonich’s attorney in acquiring this stipulation, such that he simultaneously represented both parties in the Radonich Case.

Having obtained a stipulated injunction from the Court, the conspirators then approached various search engines including, on information and belief, Google, Yahoo!, and Bing and requested that those search engines deindex the pages of Pissed Consumer. Instead of limiting the deindexing to the pages that contained statements Radonich claimed to have posted, the request to deindex included all web pages with entries about Keranique.

By engaging in this scheme, Defendant Conspirators obtained a court order under false pretenses and used the court order to persuade popular search engines to deindex every statement about Keranique, including the First Amendment protected statements of opinion and true fact posted by other individuals who were not a party to the underlying action.

And on it goes for several pages, detailing reputation management companies creating sham companies and bogus defendants -- with the apparent assistance of cooperative lawyers -- to delist content for paying clients. Whether or not clients actually knew this was happening remains to be seen, but the Texas AG's complaint claims Solvera lied to both its customers and the lawyers it used about the lawsuits it was filing. However, the two lawyers named here appear to have been complicit in the scheme, although they may never have been used directly by Solvera.

Needless to say, Google has stepped up its rejections of questionable court orders targeting protected speech. The increased scrutiny makes this fraudulent scheme less of a sure thing for shady reputation management companies. In Solvera's case, nuking criticism with fraudulently-obtained court orders was apparently big business, with its owner claiming to charge $50,000-$100,000 for this delisting service. (He's also a fan of Right to Be Forgotten, which makes cosmic sense but not business sense.) Hopefully, Solvera socked some of that cash away. It's got a lot of people to answer to.


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