An Ugly Business

A local man pushes back against the mug-shot muscle.
29
Posted November 9, 2011 by JEFF PRINCE in News

Mug shot magazines such as Mugly! and Busted! and their online equivalents have become popular in recent years. Some people just can’t resist visiting web sites or paying a buck at a local gas station for a thin tabloid full of pictures — some comical, others weird or just plain creepy — of people who’ve been arrested. Sometimes the photos depict people who were not convicted. Innocent people get caught up in the mix.

The magazine owners defend their product, saying they serve as a deterrent for future criminals, encourage Crime Stoppers tips, promote arrests, and put a face on area crime statistics. Mug shots are public record, they say, pointing to their First Amendment rights to publish the information. Besides, a caveat is included in the fine print: All suspects are innocent until proven guilty.

METROBut Fort Worth resident Tim Donnelly thinks he knows the real motivation for mug shot publishers — money. Companies are using public information requests to get booking photos and arrest records, then posting mug shots online, making sure they appear at the top of search engine lists — and then using a related company to charge individuals hundreds of dollars to have their pictures removed.

Donnelly calls it “extortive.”

“Not only do they post the mug shots, they go to the extra trouble to make sure they come up first and foremost” on Google searches, he said.

Donnelly, 26, wasn’t aware of such publications and web sites until a couple of weeks ago. He’s been looking for a full-time job with benefits since he earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Texas in 2009. Waiter and bartender jobs have paid the bills in the meantime.

Two weeks ago he was trolling online for job leads when he Googled his own name, just to see what potential employers would find if they searched him online. The first link to pop up led to a photo of his young face — as depicted in a mug shot from years ago. Accompanying the photo were his alleged offenses: criminal trespass and assault.

The mug shot was taken seven years ago when he was 19, depicting a kid with a sheepish look on his face beneath a tousled head of hair. But the criminal trespassing charge was dismissed, and the assault charge was downgraded to disorderly conduct.

“I did in fact get in a fight because I was unable to resolve my issues diplomatically with some other guys, and I have since learned better,” he said.

Seeing that old mug shot again was a shocker.

“My first thought was, “Who did this, and why?’ ” he said.

That became clear when the mug shot site led him to a payment screen. For a fee he could get the mug shot removed. Rather than pay the money, Donnelly searched the site and found the name of Citizens Information Associates LLC listed at the bottom of the pages.

He couldn’t find a telephone number on the site, but researching Citizen Information led him to Star Nine Ventures, a seemingly affiliated Austin-based search engine optimization company. The companies shared an Austin address until recently.

Star Nine, for a fee, can make web sites appear among the top links during internet searches. Donnelly e-mailed Star Nine, telling the company that he objected to his mug shot being posted and noting that one of the charges for which he’d been arrested had been dropped and the other downgraded.

But Donnelly didn’t hear back from Star Nine. Instead, Citizens Information CEO Kyle Prall called Donnelly and left an apologetic phone message explaining how arrest information provided by law enforcement agencies could sometimes contain inaccuracies, but that mug shot publications print disclaimers saying that everybody is innocent until proven guilty. In Donnelly’s case, the mug shot would be removed free of charge.

Meanwhile, Donnelly had gone to RipoffReport.com, an online site that publicizes scams and rip-offs. He described his experiences, characterizing Star Nine as unethical and inaccurate.

A few days later, Prall left another phone message. He’d seen Donnelly’s accusations on Ripoff Report and said he wanted to solve the dispute “without going a more serious route.” Donnelly returned the call, and Prall seemed angry about the Ripoff Report. Removing it would require the mug shot company to enroll in a mediation service, which could cost up to $2,000.

“The irony is [Prall] tried to charge me to take my information off, and now he’s mad about having to pay to get his info off,” Donnelly said.

I tried to contact Prall by calling Star Nine Ventures. Vanessa Agosto, who answers the phone there, said Prall wasn’t available but agreed to pass along the message. She also suggested I try calling Prall at his business. Doesn’t he work at Star Nine, I asked.

No, the receptionist said, he works at Citizens Information Services. What’s that? “It’s Busted!,” she said, referring to the mug shot company. Star Nine is not affiliated with Citizens Information, she said.

Citizens Information Associates owns the Busted! trademark. The company’s listed representative is KGP Media LLC. Prall owns KGP Media, according to
online sources.

Star Nine bills itself as a venture creation company with Ryan Russell as its CEO. Until this year it listed the same Nueces Street office address in Austin as Citizens Information. The Travis Appraisal District still lists Russell as the building’s owner.

On Feb. 2, Star Nine employee Amanda Hunt issued a press release saying that Star Nine had purchased Mugly Media Inc. of Austin and its “rapidly growing newspaper publication Busted!” The press release listed Jeremy Brooks as both executive vice president of Star Nine and a managing partner at Citizens Information, a “subsidiary of Star Nine Ventures.”

The press release also listed Prall as co-founder and CEO of Mugly Media and quoted him saying that Star Nine, through Citizens Information, will “bring the Mugly Media version of a fully integrated online and print version of the Busted! mug shot concept to the national stage.”

Agosto at Star Nine said she was unaware of the press release and that Amanda Hunt is no longer with the company. She said she didn’t know why Hunt had left.

Neither Prall nor Russell returned phone calls for comment on this article.

Donnelly believes the various companies are at least loosely affiliated and working together to get mug shots, publish them, make sure they are among the top links to pop up during searches, and then charge people to take them down.

He is calling on news media, public relations associations, and consumer activists to push for legislation to outlaw mug shot companies. In some states, law enforcement agencies legally can refuse to provide booking photos and arrest records if the pictures are going to be used for commercial purposes or to harm or defraud someone.

Some Texas law enforcement agencies post mug shots on their web sites for anyone to see. Some cities, such as Fort Worth, typically release mug shots as public information. Other cities resist. The state attorney general, responding to Irving police in June 2010, ruled that the city was required to release such photos. Irving police then created a computer program that automatically posts mug shots online each day.

Loopholes that allow agencies to refuse the release of public information can become problematic, said Keith Elkins, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.

“Historically, we have been in favor of releasing that information, especially for members of the media and for public awareness,” he said. “It’s interesting that some people may be wanting to use [mug shots and arrest records] for commercial purposes, but if the purpose is in the public’s interest, we’re in favor of more information being released than less.”


29 Comments


  1.  

    Yes he is going to get to know who i am too.All in the name of capitalism!




    •  
      Jason2020

      I was arrested over a year ago in Austin,TX but never charged for any offense . In fact I was released and didnt spend 1 night in jail . My mugshot is listed on at least 3 of these websites despite my efforts to have them removed . I have lost out on “God Only knows” how many jobs , my family and friends are constantly asking me about the alleged offense , including having to explain this to my 2 young children . I am fed up ! Contact me if you feel you have been delt with in this same unfair manner ,or if you have some ideas on what actions I can take at this point .
      jasonisinnocent@yahoo.com




  2.  

    The real crimes being committed are being committed by this company! I made a mistake, I was arrested, charged for a crime, and paid my fine. Now this company bustedmugshots is trying to exploit my mistake for profit. It is detestable!




    •  
      Darryl

      Dear God,

      Destroy Kyle Prall and his entire family. My they die of cancer and may their suffering be legendary. I ask you this in the name of your son, the lord Jesus Christ.

      Amen

      – not a threat not a request for violence, just a prayer to the Lord!




  3.  
    Valerie

    I attempted to use the “customer service” on this website and was treated with a disgusting lack of professionalism. There are only two people who work in the customer service office and they provide zero information about the business and could answer zero legitimate, legal questions. They could not direct me to anyone who could answer those questions. They hung up on me several times when I requested PUBLIC information from them, and then yelled at me and asked me if I was recording the conversation several times, this when their automated messages states that THEY record all phone calls. I do not feel comfortable giving my PRIVATE credit card information to such an unprofessional and shady business, or providing them with any court documents with PRIVATE information. This is NOT a news organization or a public service organization and people will become more aware in the coming months as the lawsuits start to arrive at their door in Austin TX




  4.  
    Valerie

    Furthermore, I would encourage EVERYONE to call this “legitimate” business who “works closely with law enforcement” and ask to speak with anyone other than the two people who work there. You will not be able to. Also, ask them where they are located and you will be given a PO BOX in WY, when they are based in Austin, TX. Ask them for a physical address, where THEY are located and they will not give you that information either. So much for legitimacy.




  5.  
    Arc

    Busted! In my opinion is extorting people to remove pictures they do not even own. My mugshot is from a traffic violation. After I paid my fees my charge was dismissed and should not even be listec on their website. My claim was denied because I did not want to submit my court paperwork. Also, even for the people who were convicted a third party should not be able to profit off public information. I am researching these types of websites and I see that TX is in the process of passing a bill to limit these types of practices. If any if you were affected by these mugshot websites you need to sign petitions and join class action lawsuits. Please do not pay for any of the services to have the mugshots removed because there are so many other websites posting the same pictures.




  6.  
    Arc

    Busted! In my opinion is extorting people to remove pictures they do not even own. My mugshot is from a traffic violation. After I paid my fees my charge was dismissed and should not even be listec on their website. My claim was denied because I did not want to submit my court paperwork. A third party should not be able to profit off public information. I am researching these types of websites and I see that TX is in the process of passing a bill to limit these types of practices. If any if you were affected by these mugshot websites you need to sign petitions and join class action lawsuits. Please do not pay for any of the services.




  7.  
    Arc

    These websites are extorting people to remove pictures they do not even own. My mugshot is from a traffic violation. After I paid my fees my charge was dismissed and should not even be listed on their website. My claim was denied because I did not want to submit my court paperwork. A third party should not be able to profit off public information. I am researching these types of websites and I see that TX is in the process of passing a bill to limit these types of practices. If any if you were affected by these mugshot websites you need to sign petitions and join class action lawsuits. Please do not pay for any of the services.




    •  

      You’ll have to excuse my mood, and my language. But please don’t delete this post because I have some insight (hopefully). I just found out TONIGHT that my mugshot and arrest record has been posted to Busted! Mugshots and Mugshots Online (both owned by the same company)

      I am exactly in the same position as Arc. My arrest was in July of 2000. I was charged with “No DL in Possession” (meaning I didn’t have my physical driver’s license on my person) and “Driving w/o insurance” (also because I didn’t have the document to prove I had a valid policy. I did plead guilty to the no DL in possession charge, and paid a $78 fine. The no insurance charge was dismissed.

      In short, I left my wallet at home and as a result got thrown in jail on a routine traffic stop (to which I was not charged at all). I thought I could put this ugly incident behind me, then 13 YEARS later I run into this bullshit. I did some research on Citizens Information Associates LLC and found a nice, ugly history. Mr. Prall apparently has a LONG rap sheet. Another dude in NY was arrested last year for fraud while running a similar mugshot service.

      So, this means (and I can’t get over the irony of this) there are scumbag criminals running these websites that are quasi legal at best, and really REALLY skirt the lines of extortion on the back end. I do see there is a class action lawsuit in Ohio against this company, but I’m going to seek recourse through the Minnesota Attorney General’s office. It sounds like the best course of action is expungement, because even if you get your info off these two sites, it can show up in any site and any time due to the Freedom of Information Act. It’s a brave new world, eh?

      Thanks for your time.




  8.  
    Arc

    These websites are extorting people to remove pictures they do not even own. My claim was denied because I did not want to submit my court paperwork. A third party should not be able to profit off public information. If any if you were affected by these mugshot websites you need to sign petitions and join class action lawsuits. Please do not pay for any of the services.




  9.  
    Arc

    These websites are extorting people to remove pictures they do not even own. A third party should not be able to profit off public information. If any if you were affected by these mugshot websites you need to sign petitions and join class action lawsuits. Please do not pay for any of the services.




  10.  
    Arc

    If any if you were affected by these mugshot websites you need to sign petitions and join class action lawsuits. Please do not pay for any of the services.




    •  
      Jason2020

      Hey Arc , I was arrested over a year ago in Austin,TX but never charged for any offense . In fact I was released and didnt spend 1 night in jail . My mugshot is listed on at least 3 of these websites despite my efforts to have them removed . I have lost out on “God Only knows” how many jobs , my family and friends are constantly asking me about the alleged offense , including having to explain this to my 2 young children . I am fed up ! Contact me if you feel you have been delt with in this same unfair manner ,or if you have some ideas on what actions I can take at this point .
      jasonisinnocent@yahoo.com




  11.  
    Jason2020

    Hi , I was arrested over a year ago in Austin,TX but never charged for any offense . In fact I was released and didnt spend 1 night in jail . My mugshot is listed on at least 3 of these websites despite my efforts to have them removed . I have lost out on “God Only knows” how many jobs , my family and friends are constantly asking me about the alleged offense , including having to explain this to my 2 young children . I am fed up ! Contact me if you feel you have been delt with in this same unfair manner ,or if you have some ideas on what actions I can take at this point .
    jasonisinnocent@yahoo.com




  12.  
    chris

    kyle@infofreedomllc.com – that’s his email and I am going to give this loser a visit




  13.  
    chris

    his telephone # is 773-474-9614




  14.  
    Roshan

    Well, I’m just another one of his victims. I was thinking we could all band together and maybe we could call our district reps to push legislation to make this practice illegal. if you think it’s a good idea i’m going to draft a petition. Send me you’re full name contact info like email and phone number and i’ll create a spreadsheet and make a master copy on my google drive and put it up for download and we take said petition to our receptive reps. Well it could be a start anyway.




  15.  
    Daryl

    I agree with Shaya…we need be reporting these bottomfeeding scumbags or they will continue with getting away with their sleazy extortions. Be sure to file complaints with the FTC and the State Attorney General!




  16.  
    EricT

    Here are the legal addresses of the owners of the above noted mugshot company according to Ohio Class Action Lawsuit Case #2012-6547. They try hard to conceal their addresses so they won’t get sued, but this info. is public record and is being posted here in the interest of freedom of information.

    You can legally serve them at: JEREMY BROOKS, 2006 W NEW HOPE DR, CEDAR PARK, TX 78613

    and

    KYLE PRALL, 9201 BRODIE LN, AUSTIN, TX 78748




  17.  
    fred

    I don’t think Kyle or Jeremy comprehend the dire life or death situation they have put themselves in.
    Too much damage has been done to too many people, marriages, jobs, businesses, relationships careers…etc. Many of these people are not going to forget.

    Most mug shots are local news only…these guys are making these people world news with no hope of fixing their lives elsewhere. Mostly, those with minor infractions, dismissed cases or no charges at all.
    Hope Bubba doesn’t beat the system…he may come looking for you.

    Time of your lives fellas! Get rich, you’ll need bodyguards 24/7.




  18.  
    Ray

    3101 Davis Ln (9201 Brodie Ln = just another entrance)
    Apt 8903
    Austin, TX 78748-5170




  19.  
    Dylan

    Send letters to your state legislators such as your assemblyman and senators. If you need guidance visit classactionagainstmugshotwebsites.com to download a form letter to send to your state representatives.




  20.  
    Chris

    This is an extremely interesting invasion of personal privacy by publishing these photographs and/or even having access to them. In Europe and Germany for example it is illegal in any papers or periodicals or websites to publish photographs of accused persons without the eyes blacked out – because for one the person is assumed innocent until proven guilty and even after paying fines or whatnot are considered as having clean records again. But of course with the US incarcerating some 2 million persons – more than Russia, communist China or Iran thats might not be so surprising. Way too many useless laws such as first time drug possession, drinking under age, etc etc need to be changed urgently, and over harsh sentencing for three strikes etc.





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